Peppy VR

Peppy: virtual reality exploration of protein structure
Peppy is a Virtual Reality (VR) simulation for exploring the molecular forces which drive protein secondary structure. Peppy allows users to build, visualise and manipulate polypeptides within the six degrees of freedom that characterises the VR environment.

Peppy recreates secondary structures dependent hydrogen-bonding in a generic peptide backbone and allows each amino acid to be mutated to examine the effect of the shapes and electrostatic forces of these on secondary structure.

Being able to physically and directly grab and manipulate the atoms and angles with the virtual hand enhances the connection of the user with the molecules and results in an exploration experience unmatched by traditional 3D visualisation software.

The highly extrapolative environment created by Peppy is extended with features that encourage engagement, such as a selfie-camera, interactive Ramachandran plot, and even the ability to crudely mimic the dynamics of a non-static macromolecular structure. 

Remarkably, even users with no prior VR experience are able to interact with Peppy in an engaged and meaningful way within just 10 minutes and, after less than an hour, many are able to build complex multi-peptide structures such as beta-barrels, or experiment with long peptides containing a variety of side chains and disulphide bonds. 

Our aims

The chemistry and 3D-structure of proteins is difficult using a traditional textbook approach.  An effective approach is to get students to build models using simple 'matchstick' kits, but these have limitations in terms of scale, time and realism.  Virtual Reality offers a new, exciting way of explaining this topic and we hope that being able to build, manipulate and explore peptides in 3D in a VR environment will have a dramatic effect on student understanding and interest in protein secondary structure.

The app

Peppy was built using the games engine Unity by David Doak.

Although it was initially developed for education, the accuracy of the metaphor is surprisingly compelling and the potential for extrapolation and exploration within research contexts could be intriguing.

The team



Gareth Denyer

Professor of Biochemical Education
  • Room 774 Molecular Bioscience Building G08