Virtual worlds such as Second Life present an intriguing premise for scientific use. But are the benefits sufficiently clear for widespread uptake? In a Commentary in the current (December) issue of Nature Materials ( 8, 919-921; 2009), Tim Jones discusses the advantages virtual worlds allow in the context of science and science communication, including allowing research collaborators to meet in a virtual space, or larger events such as talks where the audience can interact with each other.
An Editorial in the same issue of Nature Materials (8, 917; 2009, free to access online) points out that despite its advantages, growth of Second Life membership has occurred at a relatively slow pace, certainly when compared with popular social networks such as Facebook or Twitter, possibly because of the need to install software and have a fast broadband connection, or possibly because one has to adopt a flippant name in order to participate. If you are interested in trying out Second Life, the Editorial draws attention to Science Friday, a weekly radio show broadcast to a live audience gathering at a joint location in Second Life; and Nature’s weekly podcasts and Nature Publishing Group events at Second Nature that stimulate lively discussions between participants. Large institutions such as NASA and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have already built representations. Second Life may have the look and feel of a computer game, but more serious applications have started to emerge.