HMT-Editor-Phil-ColpasAnyone remember the 1973 sci-fi cult-classic movie “Soylent Green,” starring Charlton Heston? In it, renowned actor Edward G. Robinson's character is euthanized. His death scene is especially poignant: Robinson himself was dying of cancer — and knew it; legend has it he told no one on the set except Heston and passed away a mere 12 days after wrapping the film. As Robinson's character lay dying, he is comforted by a giant screen displaying tranquil, moving images of soothing landscapes.

Today, in the real world, a company called Sky Factory is utilizing state-of-the-art technology to make the science fiction of that scene a fact.

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Texas Tech University's Neuroimaging Institute is studying how viewing Sky Factory's images, such as this skyscape, affects patients' neural activity.

Sky Factory is a fine-art and technology company based in Fairfield, Iowa. Founded in 2002, it makes realistic virtual skylights and windows that transform interior spaces by creating the illusion that vibrant skyscapes and verdant forests exist right outside.

According to the Sky Factory's Sondra Ward, applications include all healthcare settings, eldercare facilities, schools, workplaces and hospitality environments. The company's new digital cinema systems feature high-definition nature sequences with motion and sound presented as real-time scenes. (For more information, visit

Texas Tech University's Neuroimaging Institute is studying how viewing such images affects neural activity. Sky Factory is sponsoring the two-part research project, which will also look at the influence of its virtual skylights on hospital patients.

“The initial fMRI study will generate brain maps of the neural pathways and regions associated with subjects' perception of Sky Factory Luminous SkyCeilings' unique imagery, and compare those results with the mapped responses of the subjects' viewing imagery established as being positive, negative or neutral,” says Mark Petrick, EDAC, Sky Factory research facilitator.

“The second part of the study will gather data on hospital patients — one group staying in rooms with Sky Factory Luminous SkyCeilings installed over the beds, and a second group staying in rooms without the SkyCeilings,” Petrick says. “Data will be collected over a year on all of the patients in the associated rooms, and analyzed at the end of the study to see what effects the SkyCeilings had on the patients exposed to them.”

It's no secret that nature can have a relaxing effect. Many people prefer to be outside while practicing meditation or yoga. Sometimes walking through a pristine forest, swimming at the beach or simply sitting underneath an old, gnarled tree are perfect for clearing the mind.

And while we're on the subject of creating fact from fiction, I like the holodeck from “Star Trek” as inspiration. Now that would transform the patient experience.