UVA virtual Lab

Web watch

UVA virtual Lab


Screen shot of the website

The UVA Virtual Lab, at http://virlab.virginia.edu/VL/home.htm, is in a league of its own.

The website harnesses leading-edge visualisation software to depict science and technology affecting our daily lives. This software enables us to climb inside objects, to see fields and forces, or to zoom in on things as tiny as atoms or electrons. There are eight virtual labs on this website, they range from a microelectronics teaching lab to an electricity and magnetism lab and even includes a nanoscience intro.  Each lab has a variety of subject-relevant experiments; once the experiment is selected, explanatory text, accompanied by animated images, guides the leaner through it.

In most cases the visualisation is accompanied by a podcast narrated by Professor Bean.
The UVA Virtual Lab doesn’t provide traditional mathematical explanations, instead, it substitutes intuitive 3D animations to explain technology as diverse as basic classroom E&M experiments, how van de Graaf Generators work, detailed explanations of semiconductors and transistors, and descriptions of microelectronic fabrication and factories.

The four sections of the science lab include nanoscience, microelectronics, electricity & magnetism, and electrical components and circuits. The section on nanoscience includes, among others, nanocarbon, topics on DNA, nanoscience instruments, ‘How SPM Dielectric Crystals Work’, and a hands-on intro to nanoscience class.

The microelectronics section contains chapters related to the inner workings of CD/DVD drives; semiconductors, ‘How an Integrated Circuit is Made’; and UVA microelectronics teaching lab.

The electricity and magnetsim section includes a tour of the virtual classroom. The topics covered here include E&M fields. The electric fields cover basic charge attraction & repulsion, pith ball ping pong, and Van de Graaff generator. The magnetic fields covers magnetic induction. The section on electrical components and circuits covers electrostatics, circuit components and their symbols, and simple and complex DC circuits.

The ‘Hands-On Introduction to Nanoscience’ in the class materials section includes link to the class website, lecture notes, supporting animations, simulations and readings. There are several virtual lab presentations and laboratory guides to browse too.

Many teachers opine that the UVA Virtual Lab’s 3-D animations are almost real-life photo-realistic, and the dynamic qualities of these 3-D presentations can explain objects and processes that cannot be explained using either a blackboard or even a series of high quality textbooks. Truly, UVA’s  Virtual Science Lab project is a great attempt to bridge the gap between knowledge gained in high school physics and virtual experiences with high-tech items, especially those in the electronics and microelectronics area. The UVA Virtual Lab© is based at the University of Virginia. The project, inspired by David Macaulay’s books on “The Way Things Work,” is directed by Professor John C. Bean.  As on date The University of Virginia’s “Virtual Science Lab” web pages has had 42,43,927 views, and 5,39,797  podcast files downloaded. The learner has the option to choose between the two versions of this website, one for modem and slow DSL internet connections, and the other for broadband and fast DSL connections.

N.S. Soundar Rajan
dheutilities@gmail.com

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