CWRU student wearing a HoloLens looking at a heart

HoloLens app named finalist for international science media awards


Just a few months after launching the first third-party app for Microsoft HoloLens, Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic are pointing to another unprecedented achievement—one that puts the two institutions amid some impressive company.

HoloAnatomy, a demonstration app designed to highlight how mixed-reality technology can transform education, is a finalist in the Jackson Hole Science Media Awards, an international competition that recognizes the best in science communications across a broad range of media. Winners will be announced at a gala Sept. 21 at the Harvard Art Museum in Boston.

HoloAnatomy has two competitors left in the “Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality” category. One is globally renowned naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. The other is… Google.

“We were excited enough to find out that we had advanced in the competition,” said Radiology Professor Mark Griswold, faculty director of Case Western Reserve’s HoloLens initiatives. “When we learned about the other two finalists a few days later, we were stunned. It is a true honor to be among such innovative, accomplished individuals and organizations.”

Attenborough’s entry is a 20-minute immersive film experience that gives viewers a 360-degree tour of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It premiered in December at the Natural History Museum of London, and is now showing at the Australian Museum in Sydney. The piece was produced by a new virtual reality studio in London, Alchemy VR.

Google’s effort, meanwhile, is Tilt Brush, an app that allows users to “paint” in 3-D. Virtual-reality artists can choose colors, types of brush strokes, and even replace “paint” with light, stars, smoke and more. Just this week, the program received an update that can make the drawings move in time with music the user plays on a computer.

HoloAnatomy, meanwhile, shows viewers a three-dimensional holographic body that they can examine from any angle, walk entirely around, and even look underneath the skin to see bones, muscles, tendons—even the organs comprising the gastrointestinal system, complete with labels. This entry differs from the other two, however, in that users still can see what else is in the room around them, whether it’s another person, piece of furniture, wall or window.

This mixed-reality approach is especially valuable for education, in that a professor wearing the HoloLens device sees not only the holograph being presented, but also how students are interacting with it in real time. The faculty member can point to a part of the hologram and asks students to identify it, or simply allow the students to work together to explore the subject while offering occasional comments or suggestions.

Microsoft gave the university and hospital the opportunity to work with the HoloLens device and software before its introduction to the public in 2015. Its first instructional application here will be anatomy, a subject long taught using textbooks and cadavers. Case Western Reserve and Cleveland Clinic are collaborating on a four-story, 485,000-square-foot Health Education Campus scheduled to open in the summer of 2019. As part of the project’s emphasis on innovation, plans are to teach medical students anatomy with a holographic curriculum viewed using Microsoft HoloLens devices.

That said, Professor Griswold and his team already have recognized significant learning and research opportunities beyond this single subject, even extending into disciplines as diverse as music, psychology and environmental science.

“The possibilities to transform learning are practically limitless,” explained Erin Henninger, executive director of visualization. “It is an inspiring and energizing time for everyone involved in this work.”

The science media award judges reviewed more than 500 entries across 22 categories, among them more traditional two-dimensional documentaries about tornadoes, the neuroscience of memory, controversies involving vaccines, and Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity. Other categories included interactive programs, giant screen productions like those seen in planetariums, podcasts and more.

Finalists’ entries will be highlighted next month at the Science Media Awards and Summit at the Hub, a three-day conference at WGBH Studios in Boston that draws scientists, journalists and others committed to education and storytelling within the sciences. The gala is part of the event.