By Tom Dunlop.

Last week two of us spent time at Margam Park, South Wales, doing outreach helping with the Treehugger project. This experience combines of a number of engineering and scientific developments into a single original VR experience, combining science and art. This experience has been developed by Marshmellow Laser Feast and Salford university to allow members of the public to experience some of the world’s largest organisms in a safe environment.

Giant Sequoia trees can grow close to 95m in height and up to 35m diameter. Fire resistant and capably of living to over 3500 years old, Giant Sequoia’s are something most people will have never have experienced. The public enter a room filled with trees, the smell of pine strong on the air, and then sitting on trunks the tale of the Sequoia is woven. Due to the excitement and atmosphere the public are more engaged than typically. After the aspects of the experience are explained, including how it melds the latest engineering advancements of LIDAR, X-ray CT and white light tomography to bring a never before seen view of a Sequoia tree.

Next people enter a darkened room with a giant black foam tree in, before being equipped with a VR set-up including a vibration backpack to enhance the lower frequency noise. When in the experience people become a water droplet, able to make their way towards the tree before being drawn up into the roots and up the tree and then being ejected into the canopy in a micro-climate cloud, a process that would usually taking three weeks. Here sped up to just over 6 minutes.

This experience is further enhanced by the sound, which has been generated from recordings of plants and conversions of chemical signals to represent the communication between trees. Which people are always keen to learn more about after the experience, leaving them with many questions which volunteers can answer. A documentary was available for viewing to further enhance any interested parties.

This kind of experience, skilfully put together by the creators allows large scale public engagement in a safe and secure way that doesn’t drain physical resources and left everyone feeling much more connected with nature and often a little in awe of the environment around them.

Materials and Manufacturing Academy (M2A) provides industry led postgraduate research training based at Swansea University's new Bay Campus. M2A is part funded by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government.