Virtual Chernobyl. Experiencing wildlife in the exclusion zone

THINKLab - Virtual Chernobyl 

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was the worst nuclear accident in history. It left behind an uninhabitable exclusion zone of around 1000 square miles where contamination is highest and public access is restricted.

In the research project “Alienated Life? The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, 30 years on”, Dr Mike Wood from the University of Salford led a research team to investigate wildlife in different areas of the exclusion zone. The team discovered that many large mammals such as bears, wolves, elk and wild boar had made the exclusion zone their home, taking advantage of the lack of human activity in the deserted area to increase their populations.

The team developed a novel approach to the assessment of radiological impacts on wildlife. They pioneered a collection method that used more than 250 motion-activated camera placements placed throughout the area. These cameras captured more than 15,000 days of footage over a year, creating more than 45,000 images to study the diversity and abundance of large and medium-sized mammals.

They also worked with the University of Salford’s Acoustics Research Centre, placing special bio-acoustic recording devices across the area, which provided more detailed information about the zone’s animal life.

The research team approached us to produce an immersive, interactive experience that brought their work to life, making the Chernobyl wildlife accessible to audiences around the world.

Our Solution

We developed a virtual reality experience allowing users to ‘visit’ Chernobyl to see and learn about the animals who live in the radioactive ‘exclusion zone’ in Ukraine and Belarus. Users could navigate to different areas, exploring the wildlife specific to that area and getting a sense of a truly unique environment that had not seen human activity for over thirty years.

‘Virtual Chernobyl’ was showcased at the Manchester Science Festival, Museum of Science & Industry, various scientific meetings and at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.  ‘Virtual Chernobyl’ has also been used to support research-led undergraduate and postgraduate teaching at Salford.