News this week featured an interview with Brigham Young University professor Daniel Smalley, creator of a sci-fi-inspired volumetric display.

With the help of a laser beam, the platform acts as a kind of “3D printer for light,” sequentially trapping and dragging a single, glowing particle to build an image in three-dimensional space.

So, what applications are possible with this kind of technology, besides recreating the heads-up display from Iron Man, the table projections from Avatar, or the “Help Me, Obi Wan Kenobi” scene from Star Wars?

In the comments section of the article, one reader suggested that the platform could be combined with tomographic imaging to help surgeons.

Caption: Smalley and his student researchers have 3D-light-printed several tiny images, including the butterfly shown here. (Image Credit: BYU)

I spoke with Professor Smalley again. Is this kind of medical application possible?

“Absolutely!” he says. Read the BYU researcher’s response below.

“We have a wealth of 3D medical data and a dearth of good medical displays with the kind of spatial resolution that would be useful to a surgeon. I think that this technique could have application anytime the practitioner must visualize, or measure, tight, complicated 3D structures like the vasculature of the body. If we could use this type of display to reduce x-ray time during fluoroscope procedures or to prevent abrasions during catheterization, I think this technology could lead to better health outcomes and maybe lower mortality. Especially when the images have moving 3D geometry – like the interior of the heart.”

What do you think? Will volumetric displays support new medical applications? What other uses do you envision for the BYU-developed projection system? Share your comments below.