UBC students can now study the human brain using holograms

Move aside CSI: science has caught up with the fiction of the popular TV series where crime scene investigators regularly conducted autopsies using full-body holograms.

A team of Vancouver researchers at UBC has found a way to visualize the brain's 3D structure and interact with the holograms.

Using a virtual reality headset, students can walk around the hologram, move it around and isolate certain parts of the brain and even label points of interest.

"What you will see is a brain floating in front of you in a semi-transparent way. It's almost like it's a glass brain and more solid or opaque structures inside it," said Dr. Claudia Krebs, a professor of anatomy in UBC's Faculty of Medicine.

Researchers worked with Microsoft Garage in Vancouver to develop a new app for HoloLens, the first self-contained, holographic computer.

The app — known as the Holographic Brain Project — overlays 2D MRI scans of the brain over corresponding sections of the brain, allowing student to dive into 3D models of neuroanatomy.

"The fact that you can walk around the brain. You can look above it. You can reposition it underneath. It really changes that understanding."

She called it groundbreaking technology: while 3D projections have been around for a while, students would normally see the structure flattened on a 2D screen. Now, for the first time they can interact with it.

"The first time I put on the HoloLens, I was blown away by what I saw," said Parker Holman, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at UBC.

"To be able to walk around and fully explore a detailed hologram of the brain from every angle is an experience that you can't quite put into words."

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