Before coming to HBS, I once thought I wanted to be a doctor. Thus, while in college I pursued a biology curriculum including Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry. A large part of my time in these classes was spent visualizing molecules, enzymes and substrates interacting in 3-dimensional space, a beautiful microscopic dance underlying this thing called life. I always wished I could make these imaginations more real, that I could go inside the molecules I was visualizing in order to better understand what was happening.
Fast forward to today, where startup MEL Science has me hoping that my dream of a deeply interactive science experience will one day become a reality. A London and St. Petersburg based company, MEL Science recently raised $2.5mm to pioneer VR education experiences.
While my vision for VR in science education takes place later in a student’s life, MEL Science sprang from the founders’ desire to provide fun, fundamental-based science education for their children. More specifically, MEL Science were frustrated that current science education was either a) more style than substance – with cool demos but a very cursory explanation of the underlying science, or b) boring – heavy with texts and graphics but without riveting experiments to capture the imagination.
Thus, MEL Science has created science experiment kits accompanied by a VR visualization app – thus, allowing budding scientists (and their parents) to both witness the macro-level awesomeness of experiments involving flames, catalyzation, and circuitry, as well as explore the micro-level molecular reaction as if shrunk down to the atomic level. One reviewer’s child described the experience by saying “Wow! I feel like I’m inside the molecule!”.
MEL Science has rolled out their first set of experiments as a subscription science kit model. Initially, parent and child lab teams receive a starter kit including a cardboard VR headset and the first two experiments. In future months, they receive two additional experiments for for $49.90 per month. The VR molecular experience is served up by downloading a free app.
Review and Recommendations
Reviews of MEL Science both praised the company for its slick VR presentation as well as knocked the company for some it’s experiments being underwhelming in terms of the actual chemistry. Thus, I think the reviews thus far are emphasizing the VR aspects of the experience and discounting the commodity-like science experiment part of the business. After all, at-home chemistry kits ere a pretty underwhelming portion of my childhood.
Thus, I think MEL Science should strive to become a platform tying typical chemistry and other science experiments to VR content. For example, every kid witnesses a vinegar and baking soda volcano at some point in their life, just as every organic chemistry student does an experiment extracting caffeine from coffee. MEL Science should gather a list of the “greatest hits” of chemistry classes by crowd-sourcing syllabuses and creating VR content that could then be available to a large number of science students, both at home and in the classroom. From there MEL Science could use their beach head within chemistry to explore VR visualization into other scientific disciplines such as physics and biology.
In conclusion, I believe MEL Science has landed upon a powerful concept of integrating molecular visualization with bench-scale experiments, but I believe they have an opportunity to further experiment using crowd-sourcing in order to gain widespread adoption and become a valuable education platform.