MEL Science launches Daydream VR app for chemistry classes

Virtual reality is slowly gaining traction, and while gaming is getting the lion’s share of the attention, many experts believe areas like education will be strong growth drivers for VR. According to Vassili Philippov, founder and CEO of MEL Science, this is becoming more and more a reality. In an email conversation with Gadgets 360, Philippov spoke about why he believes virtual reality is becoming extremely important in the education sector and gave us an early look at the company’s chemistry VR application, which will be released on Tuesday.

MEL Science is a London-based company developing a technology-based approach to science education. It uses educational videos, virtual reality explanations for the underlying science and combines these with hands-on experiments using real chemistry kits.

Philippov says the new VR application will be released as a subscription service – with the first six VR classes free – and that consumers will receive two new chemistry kits every month to conduct experiments with their children at home in addition to the VR and video experiences . Philippov says the chemistry sets are important because he doesn’t think VR alone can replace a chemistry set.

“With virtual reality, a real laboratory can be simulated. Instead of real chemicals, test tubes and burners, virtual ones are used,” he writes. “In fact, real hands-on experiments are more engaging for kids. Every time I experiment with kids, I see their eyes light up. We don’t want to kill our kids by replacing real hands-on experiments with a VR lab.”

According to Philippov, VR is perfect for explaining how the science behind the experiments works. “VR is perfect for getting kids into a chemical reaction where molecules fly around them and see how those molecules interact with each other,” he writes. “We can let them play with atomic orbitals. We can encourage children to touch them, build their own atoms and molecules, and see what happens.”

“They can explain to children what happens in a chemical reaction or in a cell,” continues Philippov. “You can also explain why. And you can show pictures. Imagine how much more they would understand if they were in a chemical reaction.”

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The idea behind the MEL VR application is that children can understand basic concepts more easily by being able to visualize things that happen at the micro level in a very interactive way. The free lessons that MEL unleashes include atoms in solids, atoms in gases, atoms in structure, electron orbitals, and creating your own atom. In this way children can learn about the structure of the atom and the differences between the elements.

MEL in the MEL laboratory

Starting with Google Daydream
One of the challenges with virtual reality is that there are too many platforms, which is a problem for those developing new applications. In the high-end VR area we have three systems: the Playstation VR, a closed system that only works with the PS4; and the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of which are powered by high-end PCs. Software for the latter two exhibits some degree of interoperability with a number of limitations.

Then there is a whole range of mobile VR headsets – starting with Google Cardboard, the Samsung Gear VR, which was developed with Oculus, and finally with Google’s Daydream.

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MEL Chemistry VR is launched for Google Daydream – coincidentally just one day after the Daydream Viewer headset launched in India on Monday – and is only supported by a few cell phones. Daydream is now limited to Google Pixel, Pixel XL and Moto Z and will soon be available for the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 + as well. On the other hand, you can use Cardboard with almost any phone, including Apple’s iPhone.

MEL first person MEL

However, Philippov writes that MEL Science wanted to focus on Daydream first because it offers a lot more features than its cheaper and more widely used cousin Cardboard. However, the company will release a Cardboard build and then a Gear VR build as well, he adds. “Gear VR is a great platform, although most schools use Cardboard because it is much cheaper,” he writes.

Philippov, on the other hand, thinks that high-end PC VR setups probably won’t find much use in education, at least not at the school level. “We believe that mobile VR will be the right choice for schools,” he continues.

We have raised concerns about the safe use of a VR headset for long periods of time, especially for children whose bodies are still developing. Philippov admits there is no data on this area as of yet, but notes that Google has already used VR for educational purposes with some success.

“Google ran a fairly extensive pilot program in schools with Google Expedition,” he writes. “More than a million students have tried this VR experience. I haven’t seen the official papers, but what I heard is that they didn’t see any major concerns about the use of VR in schools. It’s still early days for VR technology, but I’m sure it will be a great tool in science teaching. “

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