Augmented reality app helps scientific communication among scholars

The app, created by a USC professor, has major implications for the medical field.

When researchers want to look at the brain arteries’ structures on scientific journals, there are only 2D pictures for these inherently 3D structures. Now, researchers can view the full 3D structures simply using a smartphone app to scan the QR code of the supported images.

The new augmented reality app “Schol-AR” was created by Tyler Ard, an assistant professor of research at the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute. Schol-AR allows users to see augmented images on scientific journals and other publications.

“All scientific communication is still done with 2D printable article formats,” Ard told Annenberg Media. “That’s actually pretty limiting as most scientific fields have fully embraced visual technologies using media communications.”

The goal of Schol-AR, Ard said, is to make scientific communication more effective and make data visualization more vivid.

“[Augmented reality] is really moving the limitations of what we’re able to communicate,” Ard said. “A lot of the times figures are not seen through publications, so this is a way to really get better representations of data and other forms of information into people’s hands.”

Schol-AR was first used on October 17th at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in Chicago where people gave much “encouraging feedback” about the app, according to Ards.

“This problem of being constraint in what we can communicate through the typical papers and posters has been a long present thing that happens to a lot of people,” Ard said. “So a lot of people were really excited to be able to finally get past that effectively through augmented reality.”

Ard said the app started with neuroscience augmentations, but it will be applicable to other fields of sciences from math to archaeology, such as 3D images of fossil structures and weather patterns.

“We’re trying to make it applicable to all sorts of data type [and] trying to make it appealing to many different fields as we go along,” Ard said.

In addition to enriching the contents of Schol-AR, Ard said they would like to support other devices which are AR capable, such as magic leap, a virtual display device that can be applicable to augmented reality technology.

Arthur Toga, the director of the USC Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute, said he believes in the future, using augmented reality to generate 3D models will be a normal way of illustrating data sets.

“Science generates very complicated data sets, and we shouldn’t just reduce them to two-dimensional pictures on a piece of paper,” Toga said. “We should always be able to interact with all of the nuances, all of the richness of the data using electronic approach.”