Making the Invisible Visible: Modelling Virus Structure for Educational Engagement
Dr Briony ThomasZoom
Visual representations in health education are crucial tools to support cognitive understanding of complex phenomena that are invisible to the human eye. Three-dimensional tactile models hold particular value by enabling learners to see, touch and manipulate their form. However, the majority of virus models are presented as static learning tools, despite viruses being dynamic structures that undergo conformational changes during the infection process.
Using poliovirus as an exemplar of virus anatomy and behaviour, we developed a dynamic representation of poliovirus for educational engagement activities. The challenge was to translate microscopic features into a model that demonstrates structural changes during infection and how antibodies neutralise infectivity. Using a ‘research through design approach’, a physical model and augmented reality prototype were created to demonstrate the dynamic multicomponent viral capsid.
Based on this pilot study, a health literacy initiative is being undertaken with a hard-to-reach community in Batley – an area of high deprivation that has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Through collaboration with the Batley Multi Academy Trust, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from arts, virology and education, have been brought together alongside design professionals and science communication specialists for a community enrichment programme aimed at building vaccine and health literacy.