Explore the microscopic world of a plant cell with virtual reality

virtual plant cell 1
© ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology

Researchers at the University of Western Australia's ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have come up with a way to make the inner workings of a plant an interactive experience.

Karina Price and colleagues created a new virtual reality app called Virtual Plant Cell that can be used with a smartphone and virtual reality headgear like Google Cardboard to explore the microscopic world of a plant cell. In the app, users can move around the cell like on one of Ms. Frizzle's field trips, visiting chloroplast, mitochondria and watching DNA swirl in the nucleus.

If navigating through a plant cell starts to get boring, there are also challenges to complete to help the cell survive like collecting salt and shooting it out of the cell to keep the plant alive in salty conditions. Another challenge is to locate the genes within the plant's DNA that will allow it to survive in different adverse conditions like drought, flood, too much sunlight and infection.

The goal of the app is to provide an immersive educational experience for school kids to learn about plant biology. The ARC Centre has already developed other successful interactive exhibits for visiting students, but the VR app can easily be used in classrooms around Australia, no field trip required.

“This is a great way to help kids and the community understand how plants create and use energy, in order to improve agriculture and ultimately increase food production for the future,” Price said.

UWA debuted the app during Australia's National Science Week with kids getting a chance to try it out at different science festivals. The next step is secure funding to get the virtual reality app into schools next year.

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