Case Study - University of Durham


University of Durham

The Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) is a leading international centre for research into the origin and evolution of the Universe. ICC researchers address some of the most fundamental questions in science:

  • What were the first objects in the Universe?
  • How do galaxies form?
  • What is the nature of the dark matter and dark energy?
  • Where does the large-scale structure of the universe come from?
  • What is the fate of the Universe?

The ICC is based at Durham University and is part of the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics.  It offers both PhD and Msc postgraduate studentships.

Members of the ICC also belong to the Extragalactic Cosmology Research Group in the Department of Physics, and interact closely with staff in its observational section and the Astronomical Instrumentation group at the University of Durham.


The ICC has VR-enabled one of its large lecture theatres, courtesy of Virtalis.  Having experimented with passive Virtual Reality (VR) for several years and having created prize winning 3D films explaining how the universe came into being after the Big Bang, the University has installed a 120 seat ActiveWall system.

“VR is here to stay.  Our films, Cosmic Architecture, Cosmic Cookery and Cosmic Origins, have been viewed by thousands of people around the world at different outreach events, including at the Royal Society.  The depth perception element is vital to the understanding.  We’ve successfully brought our vast scientific data sets to the layman whilst our PhD students use the ActiveWall to get a grip on their data too.”
Dr. Lydia Heck, senior computer manager within the University’s Department of Physics


The mastermind researching the cosmology underpinning the ICC’s films is Prof. Carlos Frenk, FRS, director of the ICC.  Dr. Nick Holliman, founder of the visualisation laboratory in Durham’s School of Engineering and Computing Sciences, directed all the 3D aspects of the movies.

A self confessed perfectionist when it comes to the comfortable viewing of VR, Dr. Holliman was closely involved throughout the tender process in setting the requirements for the VR enabled lecture theatre.  The inspiration for VR on such a big scale came from both Prof. Frenk and from Prof. Martin Ward, head of the Department of Physics and was generously supported by the Faculty of Science.

“When we put the project out to tender, we were pleased that the offer from Virtalis both met our requirements and contained additional solutions.  By reusing our old screen, we were able to contemplate upgrading to an active system using a Christie Mirage HD6K-M projector and this also significantly shortened the installation time.  The ActiveWall brings active VR technology to our films, making them cleaner and crisper to watch, with the experience being further enhanced by the new Virtalis ActiveWorks 3D glasses.  Now our colleagues in the Biology and Geology Departments are booking our ActiveWall theatre to get a handle on their data.”
Dr. Lydia Heck, senior computer manager within the University’s Department of Physics


Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology Website

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