March 24, 2015

The Wellcome Trust and Epic Games Launch the Big Data VR Challenge

By Dana Cowley

The Evolution of Data Visualization – Taking Research to the Next Level

Tuesday, March 24, 2015 – For many, the collision of the video games world with the business of biomedical and humanities research seems like an unlikely event, but that’s exactly what the Big Data VR Challenge is designed to facilitate.

By harnessing some of the brightest minds in interactive entertainment, the Challenge is attempting to solve an ever-present problem in research – how to sift through huge data sets to find connections, trends and solutions in order to unlock hidden meanings.

The Challenge is a joint initiative from the Wellcome Trust and Epic Games, and today marks the call for participation. Any team with an interest in creating immersive VR experiences can register their interest to take part in the Challenge by sending an email to [email protected]. Applications to participate will close at midnight GMT on Tuesday, March 31.

Six teams will be selected to participate in the kickoff workshop at the Wellcome Trust in London on Thursday, April 9th when three research topics will be unveiled. Each team will receive $5,000 to cover out of pocket expenses.

A grand prize of $20,000 will be awarded to the winning team when the Challenge culminates at the Develop Conference to be held July 14-16, in Brighton, England.

Dr. John Williams, Head of Science Strategy, Performance and Impact at the Wellcome Trust, said: “We are lucky to live in a world where we are surrounded by an astonishing amount of data in all its various, sometimes nebulous, forms. Researchers need to be able to handle data better – to follow threads, play with connections and immerse themselves – without feeling overwhelmed. This is where the skills of the games industry can really help. The Big Data VR Challenge has the potential to convert that information into knowledge for the wider benefit of the research community, and that is hugely exciting.”

The highly immersive nature of virtual reality provides the best format in which to explore the potential threads and connections that may present themselves within huge data sets.

The Challenge will explore how skills like intuitive UI development, management and manipulation of large data sets and the creation of immersive, inherently understandable worlds can be usefully applied to the scientific community. Game developers are familiar with working with large data sets. A modern open world game, for example, is built from a huge amount of data, combining massive geometry, textures and sounds, and a lot of effort goes into building processes to transform, load and validate all of that data. 

The Challenge will also explore how entertainment-focused game design skills can impact the handling of big scientific data sets which are not necessarily innately engaging, easily understandable, or traditionally entertaining.

“Year on year, the games industry continues to improve the science behind these amazing pieces of entertainment. The calculations required to recreate a lifelike environment are enormous. Our latest demo enables a player to explore more than 250 square kilometers of open terrain which is all generated in real time, something that would have been unthinkable as little as two years ago. Game developers are continually pushing the boundaries of what is possible, which in a way gives them a strong affinity with science researchers who are trying to define the unknown,” commented Mike Gamble, European Territory Manager, Epic Games.

The Big Data VR Challenge will be run with peer review during the development stage, and then go in front of a jury to determine the overall outcome at Develop in Brighton. 

About Unreal Engine
Developed by Epic Games, the award-winning Unreal Engine is known for bringing high-fidelity experiences to PC, console, mobile, Web and VR. Unreal Engine accelerates the creation of games, applications, simulations, visualizations and cinematic content. Download Unreal Engine for free at, and follow @UnrealEngine for updates.

About The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We provide more than £700 million a year to support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine.