Sigma-Aldrich in Second Life: The Right Chemistry

November 19th, 2008  |  Published in SLENTRE.COM Magazine Feature Articles  |  5 Comments

By Feldspar Epstein

The Sigma- Aldrich company specializes in assisting researchers in their work. The product lines, each under a different brand name, cover the life sciences, biochemistry, biotechnology, pharmaceutical development, analytical and chromatographic work, research essentials, equipment, books and, last but not least, large scale chemistry. Their customers are primarily in the educational, governmental, non-profit and for-profit sectors.

Sandy Adam – Marketing Guru

Sandy Adam (Georgianna Blackburn in Second Life) is currently the technical marketing specialist in e-marketing for the chemical division of Sigma-Aldrich as well as the brains behind the Sigma-Aldrich entry into Second Life. Prior to this, Adam was self-employed, working in the e-learning industry with a focus on Second Life. Before that, she held a position involving Web Design and Development, Strategic Marketing Plan Development, Advertising and Interactive Tools. Adam obviously has a long, rich history in marketing where online knowledge and strategies are required.

A considered entry into Second Life

A great deal of research has gone into the Sigma-Aldrich installation in Second Life. The American Chemical Society and the Nature Publishing Group, collaborators and partners of Sigma-Aldrich respectively, both had presences in Second Life before Sigma-Aldrich. Their efforts and knowledge contributed significantly to the design of the current build. Adam herself spent many many hours exploring and researching other companies’ builds in Second Life before she partly built, partly commissioned, the installation that exists today. She found some of the required components and buildings at the Clever Zebra vExpo – which were provided free of charge. Unfortunately, the Clever Zebra team were otherwise engaged at the time and could not be hired to complete the installation. Instead, the Estequal group were brought in to round out the selection of buildings. The result is aesthetically pleasing and appropriate to purpose in each case.

Parts of the Sigma-Aldrich installation

Aldrich Chemistry

· New Products Pavilion: This area is intended to engage academic and industrial audiences, including chemists, students, educational institutions and hospitals. Adam’s research has helped her understand that these groups are already represented within Second Life and are just waiting to be funnelled into appropriate in-world advertising ventures. Inside, there’s a display of three-dimensionally rendered molecules from the range of new products developed and produced by Aldrich Chemistry. Each molecule has a corresponding web-page link with further information.

The Art of Science Exhibit on the Sigma-Aldrich Second Life parcel.

(The Art of Science Exhibit on the Aldrich Chemistry Second Life parcel.)

· The Art of Science Exhibit: This exhibit contains covers from the Aldrichimica ACTA journals published over the last 40 years. The goal is to eventually expand the collection with more historic covers over time. Notecards are available for each cover including details about the cover art and the artist responsible. Another section contains the busts of famous chemists from history. This exhibit is designed to appeal to all comers to the island.

· Aldrich Chemistry University: This amphitheatre will be used for live and recorded presentations pertaining to chemistry. The eventual hope is that students will be able to attend lectures here.

· Sigma-Aldrich Publications: This building contains the covers of two of Sigma-Aldrich’s popular publications with web-links to further information about accessing the publications themselves.

· Aldrich Chemistry Main Offices: Though somewhat bare right now, there is an excellent video down the back of the building explaining and advertising the kits that Aldrich Chemistry manufactures and sells.

Area for presentations on the Sigma Alrdrich Commons Sim in Second Life

(Area for presentations on the Sigma-Alrdrich Commons Sim in Second Life)

Sigma-Aldrich Commons

· In this area, space has been made for students to present their ‘poster’ presentations in-world.

Sigma Life Science Sim in Second Life replicates the real-life Sigma-Aldrich building.

(Sigma Life Science Sim in Second Life replicates the real-life building.)

Sigma Life Science

· The major part of this build is a replica of the real-life Life Science building and it features the laboratories where Sigma-Aldrich chemists work in. Apparently, the similarity of the digital to the real is eerily accurate. Over time, the cinema will be stocked with videos and the laboratories will be made more interactive so that newcomers to chemistry are able to get something of a feel for what it is like to work there.

SIAL Research Essentials

· Over Halloween, a fanciful build of a haunted house was featured here.

Sigma-Aldrich HQ building in Second Life

(Sigma-Aldrich HQ building in Second Life includes a beautiful, lush fountain.)

Sigma-Aldrich HQ

· The headquarters is primarily an area for Sigma-Aldrich staff to use. Staff will have space made available for them in this sim to become acclimatised to Second Life. In the future, Adam anticipates that the area will also be used for meetings and internal training.

· Sigma-Aldrich Store: This store sells goods from a range of different creators throughout Second Life. The proceeds from these sales are funnelled back into charities supported by Sigma-Aldrich.


In concert with and Orange, Sigma-Aldrich has created an interactive chemistry game. There are workstations littered throughout the Sigma-Aldrich sims to lure visitors to the various sections of the installation.


The primary target demographic for this installation is academia in Second Life – specifically the chemistry departments of major universities. Much of the build is well-geared to this audience, except perhaps the game, which is more suited to beginning chemists or a general audience.

Though the creation and running of this build has been an experiment, no parameters have yet been set to determine ROI or other measures of success. It seems a little surprising that this is the case – surely being able to gather and analyse the outcomes of the experiment is the purpose of running the experiment in the first place? One hopes that these parameters will be set before the experimentation phase is complete. When the time comes to make measurements, cost savings related to running meetings and training and advertising in Second Life will be of primary importance, says Adam.

The experiment is currently set to run for 18 months, of which approximately 9 months has already passed. Some additions to the build are already in the pipeline though no major changes are anticipated at this stage. Adam feels that she has put sufficient thought and research into the project so that major changes are not required during this experimental stage.

Adam plans to rely on those people joining the Second Life Sigma-Aldrich group, finding out about Sigma-Aldrich events, or seeing real-world promotions in order to attract people to the sims. It will be interesting to see how this strategy pans out – many people are more focused on their own work or on socialising in Second Life and it takes a very attractive and interesting build to pull them in and -most importantly – to keep them there. At the same time, one hopes that Adam is able to branch out, using more sophisticated techniques for measuring popularity rather than relying on Second Life metrics and group membership to determine how popular the build is.

In conclusion

Something that might significantly improve the value and attractability of the build might include a description in a notecard, a web-based wiki or some other easily accessible location concerning who the various parts of the installation are aimed at and what one should expect from each section – essentially, a bit of external expectation management. People do not need to wander around a large and detailed build for hours searching for clues as to why they should be there.

However, Adam has done a great job with her work in-world overall. The installation is well thought out and strategically implemented.


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    This was a great resource for chemical educators working in Second Life. I am so sorry that these islands are defunct.