At RIKEN’s Open Day, ABBL and iTHEMS members joined together to let residents of Wako (and beyond) explore astrophysics data using virtual reality. The demo, developed by Gilles Ferrand, had two major components. In one, visitors could watch as a supernova remnant expanded, compressing 500 years of evolution to just 10 seconds (and sweeping up the visitors if they were standing in the right spot!). In the second, guests could explore the chemical composition resulting from a thermonuclear explosion (a.k.a. Type Ia supernova), looking at how elements from carbon to iron formed complex structures; identifying similar structures in supernova remnants (hundreds or thousands of years later) may offer clues to how the supernovae occurred.

Importantly, the demo was not just pretty pictures for the public to look at (though it certainly was pretty). The guests got to enjoy actual scientific data, which was published in real academic journals. And there was a lot of interest in the demo: about 160 people tried out the demo on two headsets. Many more tried to get tickets for a VR experience (Gilles’ conservative estimate is that 400-500 people visited the demo room; Don Warren’s more optimistic guess is more than 600). There is clearly an appetite for exciting visualizations of scientific data.

If you want to explore the demo yourself, send Gilles or Don an email. Many people in ABBL and iTHEMS contributed to make the VR booth a success. If you want to join us and help make next year’s event even better, we welcome the support!