3-D Immersive Environments for Teaching Science

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Juliette Culver
7 April 2010

We are currently piloting a range of computer simulated science experiments as 3-D virtual environments.  These simulated experiments are not meant to replace laboratory based work, but to enable students to participate who would otherwise not be able to.  In particular, it is aimed at disabled students and students unable to access the necessary equipment, such as those in prison. 

These experiments are rendered on a PC in 3-D and use photographs of specific parts of the actual apparatus as textures to add realism and accuracy to the simulation.  In particular, photographs are used to represent the consequential views of an experiment, such as a spectrum, rather than the mundane views, such as the back of a voltmeter.  These particular views may also be animated depending on the state of the experiment.  The work combines the photographic approach of the Interactive Screen Experiments (ISEs) with the advantages of a fully simulated 3-D environment where the user can interact with the apparatus in a more natural and intuitive way. 

The potential advantages are that users can quickly adapt to the environment and in particular the controls.  They gain realistic views of the physicality of the experiment as they are not just seeing it from a particular viewpoint, but from wherever they see fit to place themselves within the experiment’s scene.  They are immersed in the experiment in a way that mitigates some of the objections to online as opposed to real laboratory experimentation. 

Furthermore there is no need to represent scales, read-outs or controls as separate parts of the interface; these can all be rendered at their correct physical positions within the experiment.  Two of these experiments based on the use of a diffraction grating and a spectrometer have been fully implemented and are being evaluated with a Physics A’ level class.  The application and its evaluation will be presented.

Presenter: Robert Lucas ( Physics & Astronomy)

Location: Jennie Lee Building Main Ambient Lab Ground Floor

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