7 April 2016 Into the 3rd dimension.

My first programming in 3D was more than 15 years ago. I had written a program to create intricate Celtic Knots and wanted to view them in 3D. With the PCs back then and the absence of tools like OpenGL it was a painful experience, but they worked. My first 3D printed object followed a year or two later when I got access to U. Leed's then amazingly new and exciting laser-sintering printer. It was magical when the knot emerged from a cake of powdered polymer.

Gradually 3D programming tools emerged. I wrote some neat stuff in VRML then along came OpenGL which became a part of Windows. The 3D views of Hansen Solubility spheres are written in OpenGL within Microsoft's Visual Studio.

But this sort of 3D now seems rather quaint. It's fine, but it's more like a sophisticated graph than a real 3D experience.

So I've decided that I've got to aim for the next level. VR here I come! All I need is to buy an Occulus Rift or HTC Vive, plug it in and start programming. Ah, it's not that simple. I have two problems

  1. My 3D programming skills are only basic, not VR quality
  2. I don't know what it is I really want to do in VR.

I'm solving the first problem by working with two guys with talents very different from my own: Mark Abbott from Fingertip Scientific and Sean Cooper from Order & Chaos Creative. Between us (and with a lot of help from GitHub) we should be able to get some good VR programming within the world that interests me - bringing scientific ideas to life. The second problem was solved tonight when I decided to Keep It Simple Stupid and implement the one 3D scientific world I know best, Hansen Solubility Parameters. I have plenty of datasets (hmmm... how do I load a scientific dataset into a 3D world?) and I have some vague ideas that it might be cool to navigate within a Hansen sphere rather than as I currently do on my 2D laptop. What I'm hoping is that once we get the basic 3D world working I'll start to see how to use the immersive experience to explore the science more effectively.

And that's the point. I haven't yet had a VR experience but I know I will be blown away (hopefully before I get VR sickness). Yet this adventure isn't about being blown away. It's about allowing scientists such as myself to understand the science in a deeper way and to use that understanding to solve problems, formulate new products, invent new things.

Will I succeed? My brain says "No" and my heart says "I hope so". But failure is certain if I don't try, so I've got to give it a shot.

In the meantime, if anyone has any great ideas for VR programs in my world of surfactants, adhesives, coatings, formulations and so on, please let me know!