Students Visualize Molecules

Alexis Hyson put on her 3-D glasses to view a life-size HIV molecule on a computer screen and immediately tried to grab it with her hand. “It looks like I can reach out and touch it,” said the Gateway High School student.

As part of UCSF's Science & Health Education Partnership (SEP) and Mo’ MAGIC, a community mentoring program, Alexis and 10 other high school students visited the Visualization Lab on UCSF’s Mission Bay campus to learn more about science and the work going on at the university. 

The Visualization Lab, or “Vis Vault” as it is informally known, is a small community science setting that allows scientists and high school students alike to view projections of complex molecules in 3-D on a computer screen. Designed as a cross between a mini 3-D movie theater and a video game, its goal is to get children interested in science.

“Working with the kids is much more satisfying,” said Tom Goddard, a computer programmer at the lab.  “They don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know what they’re gonna do when they grow up. I think it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Tom Ferrin, PhD, the director of the lab, agrees. “The biggest success today would be if one of these students that are visiting UCSF went on to become a scientist themselves,” he said. “It’s critically important to our future to interest young adults in science.”