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nVisible uses VR and microscopes to let you explore nano-scale landscapes

Ever wondered what it’d be like to shrink down to the molecular level and wander around the microscopic landscape on your desk? Well, thanks to Ohio-based outfit Nanotronics, you might soon be able to. The company has developed a system that uses virtual reality and nanoscopic imaging to give users a microbe’s-eye-view of the world.

The system, dubbed nVisible, consists of two main components: an automated optical microscope/camera system, and a virtual reality headset (it currently works with Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, and Google Cardboard).

Once you’ve got a slide underneath the microscope’s lens, the nSpec system hits the object with light from multiple angles, using an array of cameras to analyze its surface. The enables the system to generate a three-dimensional digital map of the object’s surface topography and texture. Users can then examine the map from a first-person perspective by feeding the map into a set of virtual reality goggles.

As you’d expect, the 3D visualizations that nVision creates are pretty surreal. It’s like looking at images of an alien planet rendered on a Nintendo 64 — but in the back of your mind you know that all the towering hills and epic vistas are only a few nanometers high.

Nanotronics hopes that nVisible technology can be used to help scientists and engineers explore the surfaces of materials at the nanoscopic level. With such a high level of detail, the system could allow reasearchers to interact with extremely small objects, such as nanobots, buckyballs, and carbon nanotubes, as if they were life-sized.

Right now the tech is incredibly expensive (the microscopes cost up to $70K), but Nanotronics is actively looking into ways to democratize it and make nVisible available to a wider market. Keep your fingers crossed and in the not-so-distant future you might be able to scan the surface of a dime and use it as a map for your favorite FPS game. How crazy would that be?