This is part 5 to a 5-part series on virtual reality in humanities. This article series explores the trends and use cases of how organizations and universities are utilizing VR and visualization to further explore research and public engagement opportunities in the humanities.

When thinking of virtual reality (VR) and visualization applications, many businesses tend to think of scientific or engineering fields. A quick online search will yield endless examples of manufacturing, engineering, big data visualization, or training use cases. Over the last six weeks, Mechdyne has been exploring an emerging trend in which humanities are finding just as much value in VR as scientific fields.

Since diving into this series, the applications in humanities seem to be limitless. Our clients are tackling important applications with the use of VR. Although we’ve explored multiple use cases extensively in the series, we cannot downplay the importance of all the success additional clients are experiencing by using VR in humanities.

Visualizing Race

In spring semester 2016, Professor Peter Fine at the University of Wyoming taught a class on how to be more “visually literate.” He believes that visual culture is based around stereotypes, which impacts how individuals react to media and print. Within the course, students learn how to better understand racialized imagery while learning something about themselves. Combined with digital design, the students put their artwork in the Shell 3-D Visualization Center’s CAVE system.



Each student began with a DNA test to understand their racial mixtures including European, Sub-Saharan African, East Asian, and Native American. From there, they built their own art projects to visualize and understand their own racial backgrounds:

  • A computer engineering student created a coding language and produced a digital portrait of his face made up of each letter of his genetic code
  • A graphics design student put together an audiovisual interpretation of himself, with different visual elements corresponding to audio cues
  • A microbiology student hung an art piece on the CAVE walls that was created nondigitally

Finding a Cure

Huntington’s Disease ravages less than 1 percent of the population per year, yet remains uncured and mostly untreated. In October 2015, Monash University began researching the disease with the use of their CAVE2 technology. The CAVE2 consists of 80 displays arranged in four rows and 18 columns in a 320-degree cylinder, providing the perfect environment for researchers to use “spot the difference” and “spatial awareness” instincts.

Researchers collected information from 80 subjects and displayed one brain scan per screen in the CAVE2. Organizing by subject type, specific metrics, or manually, researchers identified patterns and trends to understand how the disease affects the brain’s ability to change and adapt during onset. In March 2017, their hard work paid off, and Monash University successfully identified gene-led changes.

As quoted on Monash University’s article Monash Research Paves Way for Degenerative Brain Disease Treatments, “This discovery may uncover new treatments for millions of people suffering from degenerative brain conditions more widely.

Recruiting New Students

Iowa State University’s iconic C6 technology has long been renowned as a game-changer in the sciences. The six-sided, completely immersive CAVE boasts the highest resolution for any immersive six-sided environment in the world. Commonly used by engineers, architects, and biologists at the university, the system has now become a differentiator in sports recruiting for the football team.

Prospective student-athletes enter a virtual Jack Trice Stadium. The crowd roars, the school’s signature “tornado siren” blares as the Iowa State Cyclones enter the field, marching band members play the fight song, and signature football plays showcase in virtual reality. As a result, students experience the ultimate game day experience in virtual reality.

VR Outside the Box

Just as universities and organizations alike are discovering, the nature of visualization and virtual reality is to step outside the box. Instead of limiting themselves by sticking with the status quo, multiple universities and research groups alike are finding game-changing opportunities with familiar use cases.

Education, career, and research landscapes are radically changing as more organizations are finding ways to use VR. Mechdyne will continue to enable organizations worldwide to pursue this emerging trend and encourage everyone to consider how virtual reality can radically change how organizations and universities accomplish their goals.

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