Researchers have developed a tool that allows users to physically manipulate molecules using virtual reality technology. The machine is based on a scanning probe microscope that utilizes an extremely small probe, a molecule wide, that comes close enough to the examined surface to interact using molecular attractive forces. The microscope, however, could only be used to create an image even though it altered the examined object. By adding virtual reality tools, including touch, users can experiment with microscopic structures such as chemical molecules, viruses, and single DNA strands by manually moving them.
The devices run about $200,000 so there is demand for remote access using the broadband Internet2. Curiously, the workable range is limited to a few hundred miles because the delay in tactile feedback makes the tool unusable.
One researcher has commented, “From a pure coolness point of view, it’s phenomenal… You’re flying through molecules, making chromosomes look like they’re the size of a mountain range.”