Scientific research inside Second Life

This week's Science News discusses several real scientific research projects inside Second Life. For example, Drexel University neurobiologist Corey Hart (no, not that Corey Hart) is building a virtual frog to study the neural pathways involved in hopping. Meanwhile, Robert Amme, a physicist at the University of Denver, is modeling a nuclear reactor as a training tool. Indeed, many research institutions are leveraging the simple sim tools of SL to create immersive science learning experiences. From Science News:

Virtual Frog
"Early on, when SL really got going, it looked like it was going to be a huge playground," says Amme. "I thought personally, who needs a second life unless you don't have a first one?"

Although SL retains a large recreational component, with fantasy, racy nightclubs and sex, the science islands have distinguished themselves as places to connect with the "outside" world. Scientist-avatars guide students through formal university educational programs – such as the University of Denver's master's degree in environmental engineering – or create exhibits designed to demonstrate scientific principles. Navigational tools let users zoom in and around objects, making SL a convenient place to investigate phenomena that would otherwise be hard to visualize or understand. Avatars can, for example, initiate chemical reactions with a touch of their hand, watch a tsunami form or stroll through the internal structures of a cell.