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:
"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.