In the last several months, we’ve seen a growth spurt in virtual reality technology and applications, though few might imagine a how video game makers could help research and analytics. But that’s just what the Big Data VR Challenge is hoping to spur. Epic Games, in collaboration with the Wellcome Trust, are launching a competition to uncover solutions for creating innovative methods of making connections in big data.

The Challenge will harness entertainment-focused game design skills for handling big scientific data sets, which are often cumbersome, unruly, and tedious.  Participants are challenged to explore how skills like intuitive UI development, management and manipulation of large data sets, and the creation of immersive, inherently understandable worlds can be usefully applied to science and business.

“We are lucky to live in a world where we are surrounded by an astonishing amount of data in all its various, sometimes nebulous, forms. Researchers need to be able to handle data better – to follow threads, play with connections and immerse themselves – without feeling overwhelmed. This is where the skills of the games industry can really help,” said Dr. John Williams, Head of Science Strategy, Performance and Impact at the Wellcome Trust. “The Big Data VR Challenge has the potential to convert that information into knowledge for the wider benefit of the research community, and that is hugely exciting.”

“Year on year, the games industry continues to improve the science behind these amazing pieces of entertainment. The calculations required to recreate a lifelike environment are enormous. Our latest demo enables a player to explore more than 250 square kilometers of open terrain which is all generated in real time, something that would have been unthinkable as little as two years ago. Game developers are continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible, which in a way gives them a strong affinity with science researchers who are trying to define the unknown,” commented Mike Gamble, European Territory Manager of Epic Games.

Six teams will be chosen by peer review from among the applicants and invited to a workshop at the Wellcome Trust’s London HQ next month, where the three research projects for the challenge will be revealed. Each team will receive $5,000 to cover expenses, with a grand prize of $20,000 awards to the winner.

Any team with an interest in creating immersive VR experiences can register their interest to take part in the Challenge by sending an email to BigDataVR@bastion.co.uk. Applications to participate will close at midnight GMT on Tuesday, March 31.