Writer: Szabolcs Felszeghy

The Thrilling Journey From the Middle of (K)nowhere, Kuopio, to the Wild West, Salt Lake City – Blog post by the dynamic duo from the VR-Haptic Thinkers Kuopio Team: experienced and written by Szabolcs “Szabi” Felszeghy, later edited by Mikko Liukkonen.

I visited the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, for the first time in my life this summer, the capital city of Utah, and the Mormons…

How’d I get the chance to visit the Land of Mormons?

In a more and more digitized world filled with distractions, dental educators have the difficult task of educating the new generations of students. VR-haptic training allows educators to guide students in performing dental exercises within a haptically-enhanced digital world. This can reduce the mental burden of students due to fear of failure, and they can practice on their own time and pace, even outside of teaching hours. Despite being digital, the acquired skills have been shown to transfer to the real world, giving educators more teaching tools before and during the more classical methods of practical dental education. The second VR-Haptic Thinkers Meetup was held on the 7th of June at The University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

It was given the theme of “VR-Haptic Dentistry, Pedagogy, and Curriculum Evolution”. In the recent years, new challenges and opportunities have arisen in dental education and research, which have needed to react to the rapid changes happening in supportive VR-haptic education.

A person sitting on a large red letter U statue

The free-to-join, hybrid VR-haptic meetup featured a robust program for engaging with those of the dental community who are curious about the new technologies and developments in dental education. VR-Haptic Thinkers’ second meetup attracted a good crowd.

The VR-Haptic Thinkers’ second meetup held online and at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, US, on 7 June 2024, attracted a good number of attendees from all over the world, with more than 29 different countries represented.

On this way, I’d like to thank Professor David Morton, Vice Chair of Dental and Medical Education, his team at the University of Utah for their help and our sponsors in ensuring the smooth running of our meetup. In particular, I would like to thank Dr Rebecca Stolberg, Vice President of ADEA, Dr Gül Gülsün, Chief of Clinical Dental Innovation at ADEA, and Dr Ophir Klein, the 100th President of IADR, for attending and elevating our meetup.

Conference agenda

In total, there were 17 presentations by dental and VR-haptics experts from around the world as well as a table set up for interaction between dental educators and professionals and major VR-haptic companies (The meetup schedule). The speakers advocated for the implementation of a VR-haptic research strategy and engaging with it where and whenever possible. As there is much to be done yet before VR-haptic simulation adaptation will reach its optimum levels, significant new initiatives in dental pedagogy, curriculum development, and research will be set up. The consensus is that it is important for the members of the global VR-Haptic Thinkers Consortium to be well-equipped to contribute to solving these challenges. VR-haptics represent a shift in oral health education, complementing traditional simulation learning methods with standardized, immersive and interactive experiences. The use of VR-haptics can also reduce the mental burden of students.

After the meetup, on Saturday, I had some time to go around to discover the city and the beautiful nature nearby. Salt Lake City (SLC) was founded on July 24, 1847, by a group of Mormon pioneers. SLCwas proud to host the Olympic Winter Games in February 2002. Many venues are still in place and are available for the public to enjoy and relive Olympic memories… So the city has colorful past, exciting present and promising future, as the Salt Lake area’s concentration of biomedical, technology and software firms is among the highest in the nation.

I started the day very early on, packed light, and took with me some refreshing beverages to enjoy during my walk around the properties. The downtown of Salt Lake City is small enough to be very accessible and easy to navigate, and I found most of the best options to be on or around the main street.

Big houses in the evening in a city

I wouldn’t be properly writing this post about my experiences in Salt Lake City if I failed to mention the Temple Square. Though I’m not a Mormon (just your run-of-the-mill Christian), I first wanted to visit the conference center that hosts the semiannual worldwide broadcast of the General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is a GORGEOUS example of a perfect blend of unique artwork and architecture coming together for the benefit of the public. It is also the main arrival center for guests visiting the Temple Square, as it is monumental in size and stunningly beautiful inside. In addition, the rooftop gardens are available through a guided tour. They provide a panoramic view of downtown Salt Lake City, the Salt Lake Valley, and the Wasatch mountain range.

Buildings in city
High tower

A group of people playing instruments

Description automatically generatedThe music at the venue was provided by the “Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square”, which is made up of 360 singers, who broadcast the “Music & the Spoken Word” worldwide during the summer months. The auditorium stage houses a massive Schoenstein organ, which has over 7,000 pipes! Some of them are even among the largest organ pipes in existence. Thanks to our host, Professor David Morton, I was also able to experience the wonderful and inspirational performance of the choir. It ended up being one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had, and I will surely remember it for the rest of my life.

A brochure of music venue

I’m an avid lover of the outdoors, so I was glad to get an opportunity to go on one more little adventure on Sunday, just before my departure back to Kuopio, thanks to the ride arranged by our great host Prof. Morton. Though there was no time for a real hike, we had a banger of a time out there! It was about 28 degrees and insanely windy and sunny.

Driving to where we took our little walk at was an adventure in and of itself, as the scenery was so incredible. I couldn’t stop looking around. I bet my head was about to fall off from all the swiveling to catch the sights! I think I said “Wow!” more than I had ever before Thanks Prof. David Morton for your safety drive! It was awesome to watch the scenery transform before your eyes, from mountains to vast plateau plains, to canyons, mesas, and cliffs.

Back of a car

Flying home to the Middle of (K)nowhere, next day was a bittersweet goodbye, but it also felt good to finally see the sights of the capital of Lakeland, Kuopio and sounds of home. We barely scratched the surface of Utah, and I’d love to see more! I hope you, the reader, enjoyed reading this blog post as much as I enjoyed being in and around SLC!

Wing of an aeroplane

Szabolcs Felszeghy is a university lecturer at the Institute of Biomedicine, School of Medicine, UEF.