Champlain’s Emergent Media Center Working to Create Virtual Reality Surgical Simulator

Dr. Bryan Huber tries the VR system at the EMC.

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- A virtual reality simulator, being developed by Champlain College's Emergent Media Center (EMC), renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Bryan Huber (at left)  and a team of entrepreneurs, could change the way doctors and surgeons learn and practice their skills.

Dr. Huber and his partners at VARISES (Virtual and Augmented Reality Immersive Surgical Education Systems) say they envision a new way of delivering highly specialized and immersive training through virtual and augmented reality technology.

"The EMC is proud to collaborate with VARISES on this ground-breaking piece of educational technology. What makes the EMC unique is that we educate our students throughout the process of them creating this educational media. The real-world application of their work is immediate and apparent," said Director Ann DeMarle.

Traditionally, training for a surgical procedure involves a "see one, do one, teach one" approach, which has been at the core of surgical education training since the late 1800's. Using VARISES, a surgeon or student trainee can conduct the steps required to complete an open surgical procedure, in a realistic operating room environment while receiving performance feedback.

Huber of Mansfield Orthopaedics in Morrisville, is an attending orthopaedic surgeon at Copley Hospital. He and his partner, Dr. Brian Aros, are currently the only doctors in Vermont performing a cutting-edge knee replacement procedure that creates replacement knees using 3D printing technology. Huber currently serves as the President of Vermont Orthopaedic Society, Medical Director for Burton Global Snowboard team, Team Physician for U.S. Snowboarding, and Medical Director of Stowe Ski Patrol.

Developers say the VARISES' SurgiSIM product will marry the time-tested traditional approach with the advantages that well-designed virtual and augmented reality can bring:

  • A safe environment for surgeons to learn and practice
  • Ability to practice surgical scenarios and new medical technologies until mastery
  • Challenge surgeon's abilities to adjust to numerous unexpected situations (ie. complications) to build good judgment and timely response
  • Real-time feedback metrics
  • Data collection and analysis which can help create roadmaps for each surgeon to strengthen any areas of weakness identified

VARISES is helping create better-trained surgeons and surgical staff to meet the rapidly growing demand for procedures such as joint replacement surgeries.

The first step in making this surgical simulator includes working with a team of students, faculty, and staff at Champlain College's Emergent Media Center to create a video that will show the viability of teaching key steps of a knee replacement (arthroplasty) operation utilizing 3D simulation combined with virtual reality (VR) hardware. Phase 2 of the project will continue the focus on helping VARISES innovate its next-generation platform.

Dave Delorme is enrolled in the college's MFA in Emergent Media graduate program and serves as a project management fellow for the VARISES project at the EMC.

"I applied to Champlain hoping I would be able to jump into emergent technologies and collaborate with professionals in the field. This project has been a great opportunity to both work in a field I am passionate about and create something that will be used for good. I thought working with clients would be very stressful, but the experience has been positive. I am learning how to communicate with stakeholders outside of my institution and how to manage relationships on a professional level to keep everything in order. Because this project comes from a real client, it adds value to the work we are doing, and that means a lot to me," Delorme said.

Steven Berlin, co-founder of VARISES is equally as enthusiastic. "We could not be more excited about our partnership with the team at EMC. High-quality, professional, passionate and talented is how we would describe the faculty students and staff," he said, adding " VARISES is a Vermont startup and it is only fitting that we are building right here at home. Our area has so many incredibly talented resources to call on and we are excited that the future of surgical education will be built right here in the Green Mountain State."

The Emergent Media Center at Champlain College specializes in creating educational media as evidenced by its portfolio of products and partnerships, including breath biofeedback games for children with cystic fibrosis with Dr. Peter Bingham at the University of Vermont, a specialized online course in literacy development for early childhood educators with the Stern Center for Language and Learning, and a financial sustainability game for UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable development, among others. Learn more at www.champlain.edu/emc.


Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit champlain.edu.