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The NIAID Biovisualization Lab: a pilot program to provide virtual/augmented reality technology for biomedical research

Wednesday, September 12, 2018 — Poster Session I

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
FAES Terrace


  • MC McCarthy
  • P Cruz
  • K Zhang
  • V Starr Kramer
  • DE Hurt


Since 2016, bioinformatics and structural biology subject matter experts at the NIAID Office of Cyber Infrastructure and Computational Biology (OCICB) have used virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) to visualize molecular models, microscopy images, and medical imaging scans, demonstrating the value and utility of VR/AR for research and discovery. While VR/AR head-mounted displays (HMDs) are accessible and affordable, most computers, even those for scientific research, do not have the necessary graphics processing unit (GPU) to support high frame rates for VR/AR. Furthermore, many VR/AR programs for biomedical visualization are either in early stages of development or have high licensing costs. As a practical approach to make this fast-changing technology available to NIAID staff, OCICB created the NIAID Biovisualization (“BioViz”) Lab, located at NIAID’s 5601 Fishers Lane office. Seven VR-ready workstations support multiple concurrent VR/AR sessions using a range of HMDs. The computers are connected by a virtual local area network (VLAN) to facilitate shared VR sessions with fast, secure bandwidth, and sharing of large VR session files and software. An 8K monitor and a Microsoft Surface Hub Cart were relocated to the room for high-resolution and large-scale display, and for collaborative brainstorming. The multidisciplinary team provides scientific consultation, training, and technical support. Ongoing work includes testing new software and room-scale tracking configurations, benchmarking performance among various CPUs and GPUs, gathering user experience feedback, and identifying new use cases and applications. Lessons learned from the pilot will also be a model for incorporating similar resources to support NIAID’s international programs.

Category: Research Support Services