Goldsmiths academics develop groundbreaking online courses in Virtual Reality

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Coursera, the global leader in online education and learning, has launched its first series of courses on Virtual Reality, developed by Goldsmiths Computing lecturers.

The VR Specialisation, comprising five course modules, has been developed by Dr Sylvia Pan and Dr Marco Gillies, based on a combined 25 years’ experience in some of the world’s most prominent Virtual Reality research labs.

Their expertise in Virtual Reality centres on the generation of interactive and engaging virtual characters, one of the focus areas in the new Specialisation they teach on Coursera.

“Many of the mistakes made by Virtual Reality content creators come from not understanding the psychology of how VR works and what it means for how we create content, which is an important feature of this Specialisation,” said Dr Marco Gillies.

“In Virtual Reality users need to physically interact so they feel present in the surrounding environment. This means other characters must respond in the same way they would in the real world. These courses combine theory – the basic psychology of how VR works – with practical production skills. All the time learners are doing the practical work, they are also having to think about the psychology behind it.”

“Another important part of this Specialisation is Social VR. Social interactions in Virtual Reality are such a powerful experience; Users are sharing the space with someone who is life size, so the body language works in a way it doesn’t on a regular screen.”

Learners will get hands-on experience using many of the leading technology tools for Virtual Reality content development, and in particular the world leading game development project Unity.

“The potential for Virtual Reality to change the way we work, learn, and play is significant, but we need more people educated in VR technologies and design to get there,” said Jessica Lindl, Unity’s Global Head of Education.

“This series of courses from the University of London is a great example of a credential that can really help anyone interested in applying Virtual Reality in the work that they do.”

Dr Sylvia Pan, lecturer in graphics at Goldsmiths, said: “The launch of the Virtual Reality Specialisation presents a real opportunity to use online learning to grow the number of people equipped with the skills required to become VR content creators. Learners will take the skills developed in each of the preceding courses and put these into practice to develop their own Virtual Reality game.”

“The development of Virtual Reality courses is pivotal to cementing the role the technology will play in everyday life and across enterprises. The creative industry has naturally become the first sector to integrate Virtual Reality. However, the potential applications range across many industries, including healthcare, engineering, online collaboration, and more. The medium of Virtual Reality is developing rapidly and those making content now are creating the fundamentals of the technology. We are really excited that our learners will be able to contribute to the future of Virtual Reality.”

The specialisation comes in five courses that will be released starting on 25 September 2017.

  1. Introduction to Virtual Reality
  2. 3D Models for Virtual Reality
  3. 3D Interaction Design in Virtual Reality
  4. Building Interactive 3D Characters and Social VR
  5. Creating Your First Virtual Reality Game

Unlock molecular secrets with BioBlox VR

BioBlox, a VR game which tackles how biological molecules fit together, exhibits at this year’s New Scientist Live.

BioBlox is the result of a collaboration between researchers at Imperial College London and Goldsmiths, University of London. It turns the science of how proteins fit together (or ‘dock’) with smaller molecules, such as medicines and vitamins, into a Tetris-style puzzle game and quiz. Players manipulate and dock molecules into proteins to score points and earn bonus powers in a race against time.

First launched as a 2D mobile game, Bioblox is now available as a 3D desktop game and Virtual Reality experience – which exhibits at New Scientist Live 2017.

Where: New Scientist Live, ExCel Centre, London E16 1XL
When: 28 September – 1 October 2017
Tickets and info


How molecules dock onto proteins is the key to understanding processes in the cell, and in particular to designing new drugs to treat conditions such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. The complex 3D forms of such molecules – resembling the bumpy surface of an asteroid full of pits and craters – make understanding how they fit together extremely challenging.

The researchers designed the game to be fun but also to help players learn about protein research and it could be used in schools to teach chemistry and biology. The quiz asks players to name a biological molecule from its description – for example asking them to name the molecule that is used by our cells to produce energy later identified as glucose.

Professor William Latham, from the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths, and Creative Director of the project, said: “In BioBlox2D we open the world of protein docking to the mass market casual games player, where they have fun playing our puzzle game but at the same time learn about the science.”

Professor Michael Sternberg, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial and one of project leads, said: “We were inspired by a scientific problem to develop a fun-to-play game where players can experience the challenges of matching both shapes and electrical charges, which is central to how life works.”

The researchers say the block-slotting gameplay is given an original twist as players also have to match positively charged blocks with negatively charged ones – a reference to the binding mechanisms of real proteins. Successfully clearing blocks unlocks information and bonuses such as slowing time and automatically completing a level.

The team have also released a 3D version at the same time as the 2D version, and hope to make it possible to crowdsource the protein docking problem through citizen science challenges.

The intention with BioBlox3D and BioBloxVR is to simulate the protein docking problem with far greater realism in 3D and potentially solve real-world problems. At the moment, the pre-set models in the game come from an existing protein database, but players will soon have the ability to upload their own protein data and experiment in 3D and VR.

Frederic Fol Leymarie, Professor of Computing at Goldsmiths and co-lead on the project, said: “It is hoped this will provide the building blocks for people to create citizen science challenges to, for instance, crowdsource the search for new drug molecules.”

The project was supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).


This article was written in June 2017 by Pete Wilton and originally posted in Goldsmiths News. It was updated on 21 September 2017 to include news of Bioblox VR at New Scientist Live.


Goldsmiths Computing at Ars Electronica 2017

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Goldsmiths Computing staff, students and alumni showed up in force at this year’s Ars Electronica festival of art, technology and society.

The festival, which ran in Linz on 7-11 September 2017, is considered one of the most important international platforms for digital art and media culture.

Senior lecturer Rebecca Fiebrink gave a talk titled Machine Learning as Creative, Collaborative Design Tool in the AI and Creativity session. Her software the Wekinator was also used by Chicks on Speed member Alex Murray-Leslie in a performance titled The Liberation of the Feet.

Memo Akten, IGGI PhD student and 2013 winner of the top prize at Ars Alectronica, exhibited two pieces: FIGHT and Learning To See. He also gave a talk titled Intelligent Machines That Learn: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out! at the AI Other I symposium.

Creative Computing graduate Terence Broad received an honorary mention for the Prix Ars Electronica in the Computer Animation/Film/VFX category, for his work Autoencoding Blade Runner.

Goldsmiths researchers Prof William Latham and Lance Putnam showed Mutator VR in the festival’s gallery spaces, with continuous queues for 5 days.

Former PhD student Marco Donnarumma received an Award of Distinction in the Prix Forum II – Digital Musics and Sound Art category for his performance work Corpus Nil, which he co-produced during his PhD while working on our Meta Gesture Music project.


Mon 18 Sept: Future Mind conference

Naoko Tosa Future Mind Image Aug 2017

This September, Goldsmiths Computing hosts an international one-day symposium ‘Future Mind’ in collaboration with Kyoto University.

The Future Mind conference is open to academics, professionals and research students. It covers the themes of art, science, future technology, VR and psychology, with sessions on:

  • Art of Future, Future City and Looking for Japan
  • Communication of the Future, Vision and Mind
  • VR Art and Imaging of the Future
  • AI, Art Critic of the Future
  • Future Mind

Opened by Patrick Loughrey (Goldsmiths’ Warden), Dr. Juichi Yamagiwa (President, Kyoto University) and the UK Ambassador of Japan, the conference will initiate longer term collaboration between Goldsmiths and Kyoto University.

  • Where: Goldsmiths, University of London
  • When: Monday 18 September 2017
  • Registration: FREE. Register here

6 August: Goldsmiths AV workshops + performances take over ICA London

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London’s Institute of Contemporary Art hosts a day of workshops and performances curated by Goldsmiths Computing research assistant Dr Adam Parkinson.

Goldsmiths’ Embodied AudioVisual Interaction Group (EAVI) convenes a day of audiovisual workshops with Howlround, Calum Gunn and Ewa Justka. Each workshop is led by a musician who will teach participants how to make and use the unique tools they use to create music. Participants will then have the opportunity to perform alongside the artists in an evening concert.

“You can spend the day working with different musicians, making / learning the tools they use to make music, and then perform with them in the evening,” says Parkinson (aka musician Dane Law). Follow the links below for full details.

  • When: Sunday 6 August
  • Where: ICA, The Mall, London

Workshops at 2pm

Algorave Noise Unit with Calum Gunn
Algorave is a new musical practice that enables people to make music in real time by typing code: “live coding”. Each workshop is led by a musician who will teach participants how to make and use the unique tools they use to create music. This workshop requires participants to bring their own laptop

  • Calum Gunn is a musician and web developer whose practice encompasses academic computer music and rave culture and sounds. Inspired by ‘classic’ rave sounds, modern EDM and early techno, he reproduces familiar sounds, arranging them into new patterns and tones.

Voice Odder Workshop and Ewa Justka’s Acid Orchestra
Make your own Voice Odder, a unique electronic instrument used to create echoes, delays, reverbs, distortion and world domination. During the workshop you will learn how to make an electronic circuit, how to solder, read schematics and data sheets, use a multimeter and more. All materials will be provided, and by the end of the workshop you will have a Voice Odder of your own. You will also have the opportunity to perform with other workshop participants in Ewa Justka’s Acid Orchestra as part of the evening concertThis workshop will involve the use of soldering irons

    • Ewa Justka is a Polish electronic noise artist, self-taught instruments builder and electronics teacher. Her main field of research is based on an exploration of the materiality of objects, vibrant, ontological systems, and an investigation into modes of quasi-direct perception through noise performance actions, interactive installation, DIY electronics, hardware hacking, plant-molesting, breaking, deconstructing and collaborating. She recently received the Oram Award from PRS.

Tape Loop Workshop and Howlround’s Tape Orchestra
In this workshop, participants will learn how to make and manipulate tape loops. Tape splicing and manipulation is one of the oldest and most powerful techniques used to create electronic music, though one that is sometimes forgotten in the age of computers. Join Howlround to learn their unique approach to recording, cutting and playing with tape. This workshop will involve the use of sharp tools

      • Howlround normally operate as a six-piece featuring Chris Weaver, Robin The Fog and four tape recorders. They work with magnetic tape in sculptural configurations to loop and layer sound in often dense and haunting compositions. Their performances evoke the experimental era of emerging recordings played live with hands-on manipulation of their material, creating immersive soundscapes of mournfully melodies from a half-remembered past that might never have happened.

Courtesy Ewa Justka

Ewa Justka

7pm: EAVI Live
Live performances by Howlround, Calum Gunn, Ewa Justka and newly-assembled groups from the day’s workshops. There will also be DJ sets from Chloe Alice Frieda and CXLO.

Aligning with other aspects of the ICA’s In formation programme, EAVI locate audiovisual performance within spaces of collaboration and sensory connectivity, articulating new ways for collective and individual interaction to promote learning and participation.


Creativity at its core: work for Goldsmiths Computing

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Goldsmiths Computing is recruiting for a number of posts including lectureships. Professor Robert Zimmer, head of the computing department, shares what it’s like to work here.



What’s the computing department at Goldsmiths like?
Surprising. For one thing, most of our staff have creative practices outside of, but frequently related to computing: they’re musicians, artists, social activists, and writers. If someone was wandering around the corridors and asked to guess what kind of academic department we’re in, they probably wouldn’t guess computing. But we are computer scientists, honest. The work we do is significant on the world stage, published in the best journals and presented at the best conferences.

What kind of research does this mix of disciplines lead to?
Lots of what we do involves integrating ideas across different disciplines and world views. In one project with Imperial College, we are helping people understand the way proteins dock. This could be a dry subject, but we use techniques from games and 3D digital art to produce visualisations for scientists and to aid pupils’ learning.

In another, we are helping people collectively learn how to play music using a hybrid of audio-visual and social media techniques. In a third, we put an enormous man-made sun in the middle of Trafalgar Square. We also designed software with embedded machine learning, enabling users to build their own real-time interactive systems, including musical instruments.

Does this inter-disciplinary view of computing affect teaching?
From the very first day on their course, we encourage students to take ownership for their own projects as a piece of personal work. Students learn basic principles, but they mostly learn while they are creating things.

What kind of students does this kind of computing attract?
Brilliant. Independent. Unusually diverse. We draw a lot of our students from London and we naturally inherit a great deal of cultural diversity from the city. We are particularly proud of the prominence of women in the department. We have more than twice the average percentage of women on our degree courses, but we can and will do better.

We have a women in computing scholarship scheme for undergraduates, and we run events in our welcome week for new female students. We are active in national networks for women in Stem subjects, and our head of department is one of the two co-chairs of the Goldsmiths Athena SWAN team, working to ensure gender equality across the institution.

How else do you try to broaden the reach of computing education?
We have a mission to widen access both locally and globally. Locally, we work with London schools and further education colleges to enable inner-city pupils to find their way to university.

Globally, we have been working on distance learning initiatives for over 20 years. We are the provider of the undergraduate computing programmes for the University of London International Academy. Through that, we have educated thousands of students around the world.

Over the last few years, that global reach imperative has led us increasingly down a path of online provision. We have run MOOCs (massive open online courses) on a number of platforms, teaching subjects stretching from data science to deep stack web development, and machine learning for artists. These have already reached over 200,000 learners. We expect this to grow quickly and are now expanding the department to help support the growth.

What online provision have you got coming up?
We are very excited about our next MOOC, which we think will be one of the world’s first to cover virtual reality. This will be led by our lecturer Dr Sylvia Xueni Pan.

SylviaPanSylvia is a good example of the kind of lecturers we have. Growing up in Beijing, she went on to do a PhD and post-doctoral research in virtual reality at UCL, then joined us at Goldsmiths.

She’s interested in creating empathic social experiences in VR that are immersive and engaging, and she uses these experiences in training and education, therapy, and social neuroscience research. She has, for example, been using VR to train GPs to deal with (virtual) patients’ unreasonable demands for antibiotics. She also uses VR as a research tool for social scientists, and brings social science research to VR.

Her work has been featured in BBC Horizon, New Scientist and the Wall Street Journal. All of this thinking will inform the VR section soon to appear on the online study site, Coursera.

How did you get to be the department you are?
The department development began in 2001 when the idea of “the digital” was all over Goldsmiths, as it was all over everywhere else. It seemed a great time to build a computing department that played to Goldsmiths’ core strengths in arts and social analyses and critiques. So that’s what we did. We started joint research, and teaching programmes jointly. It has worked well for us and we are now deeply embedded in all Goldsmiths’ activities.

This worldview still affects much of what we do: as we expand the kinds of computing we explore, we retain a focus on arts, creativity and the social. Therefore, our two newest growth areas – virtual reality and data science – both embrace ideas from, and applications to, arts and social science.


Goldsmiths Computing is currently recruiting for a number of posts including lectureships and a senior data science role.

Goldsmiths’ Adventures in Cyberculture

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Computer scientists at Goldsmiths feature in a Leicester festival celebrating the pioneers of acid house, techno and early internet cultures.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s something strange was happening. Early Virtual Reality and Internet were combining with house music, neo-psychedelia and cyberpunk fiction to produce a cultural movement that would herald the new hyper-connected world. Cyberculture: The Beginning of the Modern World is a exhibition of material from this era that explores this brave new world from the perspective of those who were there.

On Saturday 17 June, all-day digital arts event Phorward includes talks from William Latham – freaky fractals artist turned Goldsmiths professor – and internet pioneer Ivan Pope, who created World Wide Web Newsletter at Goldsmiths’ Computer Centre in 1993.

The rest of the day features films, video games, VR and performances, plus a set by experimental electronic music producers & club promoters Higher Intelligence Agency.