New free multiuser virtual reality tool allows easier 3D presentations and discussions in chemistry and biology

Much like an immersive videoconferencing system where users can naturally interact with each other and with objects, we at Nexco master this free tool through direct interaction with its developers

A scientist pointing with his hands at the main contact points between a small-molecule drug (shown with its carbons in grey) and its target (cyan). The example system is human carbonic anhydrase complexed with a sulfonamide (PDB 1BZM). Screenshot from inside MolecularWebXR running in an Oculus Quest 2 in VR mode.

In recent years, scientists have been delving into the virtual world like never before. Leaving aside the hype associated to the idea of a “Metaverse”, the fact is that virtual reality (VR) technology, once seen as a faddish gaming gadget with clunky graphics and cumbersome to use as it required headsets wired to computers and external cameras, has evolved into a powerful, low-entry-barrier tool for researchers in various scientific fields. At Nexco we recognize the potential of VR to transform the way scientists communicate concepts and ideas in the sciences. This is why through collaboration with its creators we have mastered the use of MolecularWebXR, a free tool aimed at revolutionizing discussions in chemistry and biology inside VR, and all web. MolecularWebXR works much like your favorite tool for videoconferencing but with an immersive feel where people can see and talk to others, grab and move objects and point at them with their hands, all facilitating very natural discussion, education and training.

Besides its huge impact in entertainment and in advertising, modern virtual reality (VR) hardware and software have opened up new possibilities for scientific collaboration, remote work, training and education, that were unthinkable just ten years ago.

For example, psychologists use highly customized VR apps to carry out studies in which immersive, highly realistic simulations enable experiments that are unfeasible in the real world. Closer to our work at Nexco, other scientists use VR tools to assist their work in chemistry and biology, most importantly in molecular modeling and structural biology where the immersive 3D nature of the technology allows far better understanding of the spatial arrangements of atoms. In this last area, VR software is just starting to spice up how researchers can communicate, present, and discuss science. In turn, VR software for molecular graphics and modeling is very useful to assist education of the hardest topics of chemistry and structural biology especially those involving concepts of inherently 3D nature. MolecularWebXR is today the superb tool for such kinds of applications, as it provides virtual rooms for multiuser collaboration and discussion on 3D objects that represent various kinds of molecular entities. It is free to use without registration, and thanks to our contact with its developers we at Nexco know it in full detail.

Read on to know more about MolecularWebXR and our take on the future of virtual reality applied to the sciences.

Towards mass adoption of virtual reality headsets

VR has been around for some decades, but only recently has it become affordable yet easy to use and powerful enough for users to actually engage with it seamlessly.

For example, the Oculus Quest 2 headset costs around USD 350 and the just-launched Quest 3 is available for around USD 500. Compared to the generation of VR headset that dominated the market until just 5 years ago, the modern headsets are far simpler to use, with fast learning curves facilitated by easy-to-follow onboarding instructions and with extremely simple setups that involve no external computers or cameras. In most modern VR headsets, everything is built-into the head-mounted display.

In addition, the capabilities of modern VR headsets to understand space and track the user’s hands allow for very natural and seamless utilization. In most modern headsets users can literally interact with the VR content directly through hand moves and natural operations like pinching or pushing objects.

And as content and apps such as MolecularWebXR are released, we find that VR headsets are no longer confined to gaming.

MolecularWebXR: Free Multiuser Chemistry and Biology Discussions in VR

At Nexco we have embraced the power of VR for multiuser discussions in science by mastering a free-to-use tool called MolecularWebXR thanks to direct collaboration with its developers. MolecularWebXR allows multiple users to see each other, talk with each other, and interact simultaneously with their hands on the virtual objects of a session, which can be anything from molecules of any kind to surface representations of maps obtained by X-ray diffraction or cryo-electron microscopy and tomography. With MolecularWebXR users can discuss structures, share ideas, and engage in collaborative research, training and education. Check out the preprint linked under References to see several example applications.

The platform’s users have emphasized its effectiveness in facilitating interactive online discussions, which are significantly more engaging than videoconferences. Professionals from pharmaceutical and drug-design firms have underscored the importance of MolecularWebXR in simplifying complex information for laymen and showcasing projects to potential investors, among others. Additionally, educators and instructors have expressed their excitement about the platform’s potential in enhancing educational experiences.

At Nexco we believe that MolecularWebXR and similar tools being developed to make the Metaverse useful beyond entertainment will play a crucial role the future.

The virtual world is no longer just a gaming platform; it’s a place for new opportunities for scientific innovation and collaboration.


The preprint presenting MolecularWebXR:

MolecularWebXR: Multiuser discussions about chemistry and biology in immersive and inclusive VR

A blog post by the authors, showing more about the VR tool:

MolecularWebXR: free, multiuser, immersive chemistry and biology at your fingertips, from high-end…

A perspective article on how scientists are embracing VR technologies, from

Why scientists are delving into the virtual world

  • Wednesday, Nov 22, 2023, 6:11 PM
  • virtual-reality, metaverse, augmented-reality, vr, structural-biology
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