For many people, it's hard to visualise what happens inside our bodies. Even for doctors, who spend their careers on the subject, it can be tricky to get a handle on what some processes actually look like - particularly those that happen on a tiny scale.
But that could be about to change - cell biology experts have partnered with virtual reality engineers to show how it's possible to visualise scientific data in a 3D virtual world. The results, they hope, could allow scientists, students and even members of the public to explore and interact with their own cells.
Until pretty recently, most visualisation of what happens inside a cell was done in two dimensions - on paper or a computer screen. But with the arrival of hardware like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and even Google Cardboard, it's possible to explore it in 3D.
The sub-cellular world
In an article in the journal Traffic, a team of researchers have outlined what that might look like - explaining how they used a scanning electron microscope to build a 3D virtual model of a "real" cell.
"VR transforms the way we look at cells and lets us explore the sub-cellular world," said lead author Angus Johnston, of Monash University, in Australia.
In testing, the team found that interacting with this 3D model helped boost students' understanding of cellular processes. The team wrote that they hoped it could also be used for public engagement, and even as a tool for researchers studying cellular architecture.
"I can imagine a VR experience where we not only marvel at the scenery of this new world but we also meet and interact with the inhabitants," said senior author Robert Parton, of The University of Queensland, in Australia.