Year: 2018

Developer: Nanome

Viewing System: Oculus Rift & Touch controllers

Ever wondered what those molecules you studied in chemistry class look like? Nanome is an immersive nanoscale laboratory that allows researchers, scientists, drug developers and molecule enthusiasts visualize and handle all small protein molecules. What were once static images on a textbook have now become intricate visual objects that you can manipulate, almost similar to Legos and Minecraft. This ability makes it a useful learning and experimentation tool.

What is most captivating about Nanome, is the abundance of existing molecules that you can manipulate and take a closer look at. The laboratory’s virtual menu and touch control functions allow for shedding light on certain areas of particles and even zooming in and out. Therefore, what were once complex 2D structures are now malleable 3D visuals. The benefit of this is the ability to recognize patterns in structures easily and allowing for experimentation in drug Using the touch controllers, you can grab proteins and rotate them. You can also measure distances between atoms and introduce mutations. Previously, this could only be done through microscopes and immunohistochemistry (essentially a controlled lab environment). Therefore, Nanome’s interactive interface makes the drug design process intuitive and more efficient. Furthermore, the color scheme and icon choices for the laboratory menu allow for easy navigation by the user. There is also a “Quick Select” option that allows users to perform tasks without having to navigate the menu completely. Most of the sound happens when you hover over certain components of a molecule or the menu itself. This further enhances the user experience. Additionally, the application integrates blockchain technology to protect creations and patterns discovered by users. The former which was described as the beginning of the “democratization” of science. Nanome’s attempt at intersecting the two buzzwords of the year: “VR” and “Blockchain”; means that scientists who find discoveries or even create something on Nanome can translate that into tangible assets that are digitally secured.

Adding to that, another interesting functionality of Nanome is that you can create private and public working rooms. If you create a public working room, you essentially open your lab for others to come in and join you. The private room function makes it ideal for collaboration with other colleagues and workers whether at your workplace or at another institution. This form of collaboration without the need to transport oneself geographically is of high business value to organizations. Nevertheless, multiuser collaboration settings and the ability to create mutations in molecules require a monthly subscription. Also, though Nanome’s molecule library is abundant it is however incomplete. The developers solve for that by allowing users to import molecules from online research databases such as the well-known RCSB Protein Databank. Also, using the different functions in the laboratory is not straightforward at the outset and users would be required to go through a brief training tutorial. The hexagon shaped floor of the laboratory maybe unappealing and distracting to the eye for some.

The process of drug design and development in chemistry is complex and time consuming. It requires time to recognize patterns through microscopes coupled by a long duration of experimentation and mutation testing. Nanome helps solve for this problem through an innovative medium. Is this potentially disruptive? Yes. Nanome’s interface can help us easily see how this can help further science in other fields such as genetic engineering and human diagnostics. However, one can only observe whether it is so in the coming years and whether any scientific discoveries or patents come from this application. STEM is always keen on embracing new technologies, but whether those technologies such as Nanome are sustainable enough so as to replace current practice remains a question.