In 2017 the Swiss X-ray free electron laser, known as SwissFEL, will go into operation at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI). The SwissFEL X-ray laser will generate extremely short, intense X-ray pulses. The unique properties of the SwissFEL will enable experiments to be carried out at a very high resolution in both time and space. This new facility will open the door to discoveries, in many areas of current research, which cannot be achieved using existing methods. For example, it will be possible to observe the progress of extremely fast chemical and physical processes, including details down to the scale of a molecule. This will not only result in a significant increase in knowledge, it will also provide the basis for a vast range of technical and scientific developments. The resulting findings will enhance our understanding of nature and will contribute to the development of new medicines, more efficient processes in the chemical industry, new materials in electronics, or the development of alternative energy.
In order to help society understand the importance of this new research tool, as well as the research undertaken to create this new instrument the present proposal depicts a virtual reality model of SwissFEL, hereafter named “SwissFEL in a virtual reality”. With this video game like device SwissFEL researchers expect to attract the general public, and especially groups usually less interested in research (i.e. people fancying videogames, entire families: parents in their thirties, with children between 8 and 15). This virtual reality model fosters communication of cutting edge research performed, by scientists, on and for the SwissFEL project, to the general public by explaining and guiding through the concept of Switzerland’s new cutting edge research facility in a playful way. The goal is that after visiting “SwissFEL in virtual reality” the target groups know what SwissFEL is and can explain it to others, who will thus want to see and experience it!
The virtual reality model will be carried out by PSI with the technical support of the Institute for 4D Technologies (I4D) at the FHNW in Windisch. The FHNW has profund expertise on interactive 3D visualization, and developed a new method of constructing virtual reality models.
PSI’s Besucherzentrum has yearly 19’800 visitors, ranging from school classes, political parties, companies, schools for highly skilled pupils to pensioned persons, families, sport clubs, voluntary fire brigade, association of farmer wives, choirs, i.e. the general public as such, or in other words a very diverse target group. PSI offers their visitors guided tours through its Campus to experience research “hands on”. All tours are conducted not by full time tour guides but rather by the scientists and engineers working at PSI so that visitors profit from their first hand knowledge of the research taking place at PSI. The applicant of this proposal, Dr. Hans Braun, frequently guides visitor groups at PSI. The present proposal reflects his experiences of the expectations of visitors and his desire to make visiting PSI attractive to even more target groups from among the population living in Switzerland.
With the concept of “SwissFEL - in virtual reality” Hans Braun and other SwissFEL scientists want to communicate face to face with the target groups in order to create a dialogue on science. They guide the visitors and answer questions before and after the entrance into “SwissFEL- in virtual reality”.
During the construction phase of SwissFEL when this facility itself is still inaccessible, this model gives a very realistic insight into the complexity and extensiveness of the X-ray free electron laser project, its embedding in the landscape, and makes it accessible to the public already before construction is completed. The model provides access to the demonstration of the whole functionality of the facility at any time, independent of the operation or construction status of the facility.
PSI will promote the new model through direct mailings, advertisements, and website. The impact will be measured by the statistical evaluation of PSI “Besucherdienst” and evaluated through small questionnaires including a contest.