November 9, 2016

Virtual reality meets microscopy

					Microscopy and virtual reality

Visualization software puts images from microscopes and imaging diagnostic devices in a whole new light. There seem to be no limits as to where virtual reality can be used.

Growth is rapid. The possibilities seem limitless. And the optical industry is one of the drivers. Virtual reality—the software-supported combination of real and virtual presentation—is breaking ground in medical, scientific, and industrial applications. Zeiss cites a recent study from KZero, which forecasts that the market for virtual reality (VR) software and hardware will double within two years. Start-ups that develop VR and visualization software are popping up everywhere. These are often spin-offs from scientific visualization centers, the number of which has been growing rapidly worldwide.

One of these centers is the Visualization Center C in Norrköping, Sweden. Scientists here are compiling data from space telescopes to enable spectacular 3D visualization of the universe. They also merge computer and magnetic resonance tomography (CT/MR) images of mummies and living patients into 3D images of the body, which visitors can rotate on large touchscreen tables, where they can switch between different views of the skeleton, muscles and blood vessels and zoom in to see them in detail.

Virtual reality supplements microscopy and diagnostics

These visualization tables are used in hospitals and universities to train doctors or to allow teams of doctors to coordinate their procedures for operations based on the 3D image. It's quite possible that in the future, surgeons will share these visualizations of x-ray, ultrasound, CT, and MR images with medical experts at the other end of the world to obtain their advice on complex procedures and let them “virtually” look over their shoulder. But VR technology is not only gaining ground in medicine. Visualizations help mechanics carry out difficult repairs, allow people to “walk through” the construction plans of future factories and plants—and they open up completely new dimensions for computer games.

In view of the many private and commercial applications, Deutsche Bank Research predicts that sales revenue will increase by a factor of 15 to EUR 7.5 billion within the next five years. Microscopy providers, such as Leica Microsystems with its CaptiView solution, which assists brain surgeons in their operation microscopy by displaying virtual image data, and Zeiss want to be part of this.

Cells and components you can walk through

Zeiss has developed a VR application for microscopy with Rostock-based software company arivis. “Immersive microscopy” deals with the problem that modern light, electron, and x-ray microscopes now produce data streams in the giga and terabyte range. The arivis software processes this data into high dynamic 3D visualizations, which scientists can “fly through” using the Zeiss 3D headset VR One. They can look at interesting details from many different perspectives or, by moving their head and using hand controls, zoom in from the bird's eye view to nano ranges.

VR presentations not only create new insights into cells and brain structures, but also allow developers in the industry to inspect tiny internal structures in x-ray or microscope images of components from different angles. Nondestructive testing opens up completely new dimensions. Tiny components, such as cooling ducts or cavities in 3D-printed components, can be examined. At Zeiss, expectations for VR technology culminate in the sentence: “Virtual reality is a game changer.” And optics will play a key role. According to the responsible product manager, Franz Troppenhagen, Zeiss installs “high-precision lens optics” in its VR headset. In any case, light is the key to the virtual world and the key tool for visualization.