The goal of HoloBrain project was to develop an Augmented Reality (AR) teaching tool that could be implemented in neuroanatomy instruction, and to evaluate its effectiveness in the classroom.


The gold standard for anatomy instruction involves the use of cadaveric dissection; however, this method is expensive and can be limited by the need to destroy superficial structures in order to reveal deeper ones. As such, there is a clear need for innovative visualizations and educational tools that supplement cadaveric dissection and improve learning outcomes for students in many areas including medicine, physiology, dentistry and bio medicine. With technological advances in computer imaging and display devices, anatomy educators increasingly have a variety of options for delivering educational content. However, there are limitations to these approaches, which include challenges in accurately representing 3D structures, ease of use for instructors and students, as well as oversimplification or inaccurate information.

Learning with AR

We experience the world in three dimensions, and our visual systems and brains have adapted to processing information in this environment. More conventional screen-based 3D approaches, while an improvement over purely 2D content, still suffer from a loss of dimensional fidelity and a reduction in visual cues, demanding more mental effort – or cognitive load – in order to interpret the image. With AR, the hologram makes the 3D object a natural extension of the physical world, reducing cognitive load, and thus making learning easier.


In collaboration with Microsoft (BigPark Vancouver and Microsoft Garage Interns), and interactive lecture was developed over 4 months using the HoloLens, a mixed reality headset offering the unique ability to blend virtual 3D content with the real world. Specifically, 3D reconstructions of basal ganglia nuclei were obtained from MRI scans and built into the teaching tool deployed on the HoloLens. Taking advantage of the HoloLens gesture recognition input system, interactivity was optimized, allowing the 3D reconstructions to be manipulated with ease and built up separately.

Educational Research

We are currently evaluating the pedagogical efficacy of HoloLens and the application as a teaching tool for undergraduate students, as compared to traditional instructional methods. Specifically, the HoloBrain app will be incorporated into a structured AR lesson that will be used to validate the holographic educational medium as tool for enhancing students’ understanding of the 3D organization of the brain. The study population will include undergraduate students enrolled in UBC.

The Team

UBC Research Team:

  • Claudia Krebs, MD, PhD, Professor of Teaching
  • Parker Holman, MS, MSEd
  • Tamara Bodnar, PhD
  • Tech Lead: Mehrdad Ghomi
  • Tech Assist: Dante Cerron (May 2018 to present)
  • 3D Modeller: Ishan Dixit
  • UX/UI Design Lead: Cynthia Liu (Sept 2018 to present)
  • Tech Assist: Yana Pertels (Jan to Apr 2018)
  • Tech Assist: Robyn Choi (Sep to Dec 2017)

ECE Capstone team (2017/18 Academic year):

  • Team Lead: Aviral Garg
  • Chen Chen
  • Kristyn Lee
  • Tom Lee
  • Kai Wing Kevin Tang

Microsoft Support:

  • Peter Doidge-Harrison
  • Stephane Morichere-Matte

Microsoft Garage Interns:

  • Kevin Jacyna
  • Reem Razak
  • Roxanne Plante
  • Salma Aly
  • Shirley Mao
  • Sean Tohidi

Learn more about this project here.