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Interactive Virtual Experience Pops Up at Valley Fair

A traveling interactive museum about Virtual Reality (VR) has popped up at Westfield Valley Fair. The Virtual Science Center shows kids and adults the science behind VR by looking at the steps creators take to immerse you into an interactive digital world.

“We have some exhibits all about perception…how the brain sort of tricks you into thinking something is real when it’s not,” said Tour Manager Heather Birchall. “That’s important for VR because if you’re going to think that the experience is real, you want your brain to be tricked in some ways. A lot of our programmers rely on these same tricks to make it seem real.”

The traveling museum is the brain child of Meghan Lee and Brendan Iribe, the developer of the Oculus Rift VR headset. The hope is that the exhibits will inspire a new generation of creators.

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“We’re really passionate about what kids get outside of school,” said Birchall. “We would really hope that an exhibition like this might just spark something in a kid. It doesn’t even have to necessarily to do with science because virtual reality is a really visual medium. There’s a lot of design work, obviously, that goes into building these like virtual worlds.”

It’s not just kids that are learning. The museum is laid out so adult visitors can receive the same experiences. Visitors can tour the museum at their own pace, learning about how VR uses what you see, hear and feel to trick your brain into believing that what’s in front of you is reality.

Birchall says one of the goals of the museum is to teach people that VR isn’t just for fun, but it also has real world applications.

“We have some videos about different uses of virtual reality. They’re really nice for people to know that it’s not just about gaming, but it’s also about, designing stuff, a lot of training, medical training,” said Birchall.

Because it is an interactive museum, Birchall and her team have installed safety measures in response to COVID-19. VR headsets are placed in clean boxes and disinfected with UV-C light between each use.

At the end of the visit, guests have the opportunity to experience the full impact of VR through immersive gaming. The Virtual Science Center offers three VR experiences including one where users can take flight and put out fires throughout a city. Birchall says the best part is, it’s family friendly.

“In a VR arcade. You would get blood guts and gore to be honest,” said Birchall. “This is a family experience. The games are really fun but they’re not heavy-duty games. They’re games that are quite easy to pick up.”

The Virtual Science Center is located on the second floor of Valley Fair’s new wing, across from Urban Outfitters. It will be in town until January. The interactive museum is best suited for kids 6 and older. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for kids. You can find more details at www.virtualsciencecenter.org/.

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