Just in time to take advantage of the latest round of iPad hysteria, optics researchers at the Universities of Glasgow and Bristol are launching a novel new iPad app. But this new application doesn't let you manipulate your bank account, your current scrabble match, or your media collection. It lets you manipulate microscopic particles.
Using a simple, intuitive iPad touchscreen interface, the new app links to an optical tweezers system that uses finely tuned lasers to manipulate tiny particles. Most optical tweezers rely on more cumbersome user interfaces, requiring a joystick or mouse to move particles. The touch-based interface relies on commands users already know innately, like pinching the screen or tilting the entire device to move particles around using spatial intuition.
Such a system should make the iPad a handy tool in molecular biology labs, where optical tweezers are an important tool. Moreover, while most people may have never operated optical tweezers, most have used a touchscreen interface like the iPad's, lowering the technological barrier to entry in the lab. But perhaps the biggest selling point of this new app: it makes molecular biology look like fun.
It has it's points, but I disagree with the 'pinch' as an intuitive gesture. What real life object do you move up and down by using a pinching motion?
I believe that it's a forward step, but possibly not the leap that you guys think it is -- oh, I forgot -- it's an iPad app!
I don't know... Touch interface may not be inherently intuitive, but the learning curve is remarkably lower than, say, a joystick. There's less translation from movement to action than from manipulation of a control device to action. "Pinch = make smaller" made perfect sense to me the first time I used a touch screen.
Perhaps it's something that long-time computer users will have an easier time with, as well. What in real life, indeed? Well, my smart phone, for one. I understand that it is a digital device, but those of us who grew up looking at a screen are closer connected to the information contained therein, and are more likely to consider it "real." Maybe that will help.
And of course, being an iPad app means it has inherent coolness. :-)
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