Start-up company creates true 3D hologram of proteins

A start-up company has created a true 3D hologram of a protein structure that biomedical researchers can view from multiple angles to peel away certain domains.

The product is essentially a micro-engineered plastic sheet — but Holoxica is ultimately aiming to build a dynamic display system that can store a number of different holograms graphics and short animations.

Holoxica is a company with connections to several Scottish universities, including St Andrews, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh, and is headed by optical engineer Javid Kahn. The company produces custom-made holographic prints using a half-a-million pound holographic printer supplied by Lithuanian company Golea.

‘I decided in 2007 that 3D was going to be really big and I was dissatisfied with the state of the art in the field — I decided that I could do it better by going back to basics and trying a different approach,’ said Javid Kahn of Holoxica.


The latest commission is a holographic display of the crystal structure of green fluorescent protein (GFP) — a molecule of special interest to geneticists. Holoxica was able to design the display using information from the online, open-access protein database.

The resulting product is an A3-sized sheet of plastic that is displayed horizontally like a painting. When a halogen spotlight is shone on the display, a 3D image is projected out of the screen, which has a 120° field of view.

The display can be designed with a basic level of interaction so that when the researchers move around the 3D projection, part of the protein structure is ‘peeled away’ to reveal deeper internal domains of the protein.

‘The hologram itself is a dot-matrix structure and each dot has holographic information encoded about the subject from a unique viewpoint in red, green and blue for colour,’ Kahn said.

Concept car

Holoxica has also created a display for a concept car that can be laid flat on a table with the resulting holographic image projected up and viewed from all angles at 360°.

Currently, however, the commercial displays the company makes can only handle one protein (or other graphic) at a time and can only incorporate very basic levels of interaction. A grant from the Technology Strategy Board will now allow it to develop a more dynamic display.

‘We will embed a number of holographic images into what we call a holographic screen and switch between them and do simple animations. It’s true, proper 3D, no messing around with glasses or optical tricks — nobody has been able to do that yet,’ Kahn said.

So far, the company has managed to embed nine images on the same display and is now aiming for 25 — which will allow one second of true holographic video.