科学英语新闻: Doing real science in virtual worlds
Strap on a virtual reality headset and you’ll enter a different world. Without leaving your house, you can fly a spaceship through a make-believe galaxy. You can play pool with friends. Or you can perform surgery on an alien.
Virtual reality, or VR, uses special technology to trick the brain into thinking these experiences are real. A technique called stereoscopy (STAIR-ee-OSS-kuh-pee) sends a slightly different image to each eye. This can create the illusion of depth. It certainly makes video games feel more realistic. But VR isn’t just for fun. It also can help scientists do their research or share it with others.
Scientists are using VR to learn more about people and the planet. One engineer uses this technology to let kids build mountains and carve out rivers with their bare hands. A scientist who studies language puts people in a virtual restaurant to learn what happens in their brains as they converse. A doctor takes patients on a virtual field trip to swim with dolphins. The worlds they visit are not real, but the science is.
David Peeters loved learning foreign languages when he was growing up. His first language was Dutch. He studied three others at school — German, French and English.
In college and graduate school he focused on linguistics. It’s the science of human language. And the more he learned, the more Peeters began to wonder what happens inside our brains as people converse. He began to look at language through the lens of neuroscience — the study of the brain.
“There’s a lot about the way the brain processes speech that we don’t understand,” he says. Peeters is a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen (Nih-MAY-jin), a city in the Netherlands. Peeters studies the way people communicate. To answer some of his questions, he built a virtual restaurant.
Real people stroll into it. To do this, they wear 3-D glasses. The small room they walk in has screens on every wall. It’s called a cave automatic virtual environment — CAVE for short. It’s basically a theater with a 3-D movie projected on every wall. To someone wearing 3-D glasses, it feels almost like a real world. (For people familiar with Star Trek: Next Generation, CAVEs are essentially a real-life version of the holodeck.)
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