The Molecular Visualization Laboratory (MVL)
is used for research and teaching purposes. It is designed for viewing digital representations of complex molecular structures in a stereo (3-D) environment..
Background and applications.
Since the early days of structure determination of biological macromolecules, such as DNA or proteins, the depiction of their 3-dimensional structures in 2-dimensional media (i.e., on paper or slides) has been inadequate. The complications are due to the existence of an enormous number of individual atoms, thousands or tens of thousands, in 3-dimensional space. Hence, the spatial relationships between atoms cannot be represented in a 2-dimensional image. In order to display molecular structures to students and researchers, stereo pairs of fixed images were created from representations found in publications and/or textbooks. This gave a 3-D quality to such representations, but they were still incapable of being spatially manipulated. The problem has become even more pronounced as current-day advances in X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) techniques, combined with mathematical algorithms, have resulted in a burst of new structures of proteins, DNA, RNA, and nucleoprotein complexes. Scientists involved in structural research use powerful UNIX workstations equipped with stereo capability to display the intricate details of molecular structures. The MVL is designed to provide such a capability to groups of people beyond individual workstation users, including scientists, research staff and students.
The MVL is used primarily for graduate student-level lecture courses and for research purposes. Simultaneous observation of structural details by a group of people (researchers or students) allows the system to be used for discussion of the molecular objects’ features in a theater-style environment with a full range of image manipulation capabilities including magnification, rotation, measurement of inter-atomic distances, angles, etc.
The MVL is equipped with a 3-D projection system, utilizing “active stereo” technology. A ceiling-mounted projector with fast phosphor tubes rapidly projects alternating images, one for the right eye and one for the left. These images are displayed at approximately twice the normal refresh rate. Using specially-designed glasses, equipped with two infra-red controlled LCD shutters working in synchronization with the projector, the audience is “tricked” into seeing a full 3-D image. The system provides excellent image quality unattainable by other methods. Movable images of molecular structures are fed into the projector in real time thanks to a powerful SGI Octane workstation. The MVL is able to accommodate about 15 people simultaneously.