His idea has always been a futuristic one: how could an immersive VR experience take children deep into the bowels of a living, breathing cell?
And how might students be able to not only see, but control this cellular environment that envelops them?
Now thanks to a partnership with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology (PEB) at University of Western Australia, plus the speedy advancements in VR technologies, Blake is seeing his vision play out in real time with his Trinity College students.
“I have always been looking for … this end point of having the ability to go beyond what a microscope can show us in biology, to actually walk through a cell – so that’s always been my vision,” Blake shares.
In what the educator suspects might be a “world first”, the school has launched a pilot program to test how Year 8 students might learn the intimate details of plant biology via the Virtual Plant Cell (VPC) – a flora-infused 3D experience like no other.
“Essentially you are outside a plant cell and then you are able to jump into it, so you are actually inside the cell itself, so if you look up you can see chloroplasts and if you look down you see the nucleus,” he explains.
“And then you can actually go up closer to them and you start to find out the inner workings of things; you can see chloroplasts where you can see material going in and material coming out…”
Working in pairs, students have been directing their oculus rift- clad peers to purposefully explore certain aspects of cellular function.
According to Blake, this is just the beginning of things to come.
“We are trying to develop it so that you can actually interact with [the cell environment], turn things on, turn things off, to show how cause and effect happens within the cell itself.
“Ultimately, why not have a tactile response? (For example) you put your hand on a mitochondria and it gets hotter as things go in…”
Working alongside the university, Trinity are now helping to forge a “rather more sophisticated model” of plant cell immersion that’s set to plunge Year 11s into the VR realm.
“… there is a lot more detail [in] the chemistry with things like photosynthesis and respirations,” Blake reports.
On the engagement front, the program has over delivered.
“One kid said ‘you can be inside of it and there’s no distractions, you are totally absorbed’ and this is where we think [VR’s] got a really good place...”