Documenting the Coming Singularity

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Scientists collaborating with each other in virtual worlds

Editor's Note: Technological advances that affect our everyday lives are often given to us by either the military or science. Which will be the driving force behind full-immersion virtual reality? This article kind of gives the edge to science. - August 4, 2009, by Lisa Zyga

MICA members attending a regular weekly astrophysics seminar, in this case by Dr. M. Trenti, given in the StellaNova sim in Second Life. Image courtesy of Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA).

Normally, virtual worlds are the setting of many online games and entertainment applications, but now they’re becoming a place for scientific collaboration and outreach, as well. A team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology, Princeton, Drexel University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have formed the first professional scientific organization based entirely in virtual worlds. Called the Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA), the organization conducts professional seminars and popular lectures, among other events, for its growing membership.

As MICA’s founders explain in a recent published paper, MICA is currently based in Second Life where participants use avatars to explore and interact with their surroundings, and will expand to other virtual worlds when appropriate. As of this past March, MICA had about 40 professional members and 100 members of the general public interested in learning about science, specifically astronomy. MICA is also establishing collaborative partnerships with the IT industry, including Microsoft and IBM, and plans to further develop industrial partnerships.

“Virtual worlds are already a very fruitful arena for research in social sciences and humanities, including sociology, economics, psychology, etc.,” lead author George Djorgovski told “They are already a superb educational and outreach platform, and should be used much more. We are trying to find out what else we can do with these technologies in the natural sciences, such as physics and astronomy.”

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