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Students are learning and experimenting inside Google's virtual labs

The last thing you want to do in a college chemistry lab is spill a beaker full of acid and run screaming to...

Posted: Aug 28, 2018 8:31 PM

The last thing you want to do in a college chemistry lab is spill a beaker full of acid and run screaming to the eyewash station. But a virtual reality laboratory safety course requires you to do just that if you hope to pass the class. Well, all but the screaming. That's optional.

Google's latest VR project lets college students perform "hands-on" biology experiments without stepping foot in a lab. Google worked with remote virtual lab company Labster to create 30 labs that require a Google Daydream or the Lenovo Mirage headsets, but no safety goggles.

The first batch of classes, designed for undergraduate biology students, includes lessons on gene therapy, cytogenetics and RNA extraction. Labster has been making virtual labs for remote learning since 2013, but has focused primarily on computers. The company, based in Copenhagen, has long hoped to make the jump to VR, and idea that excites students.

"You have limitations to what you can see and do in a physical lab in the real world," said Penny Stone, an Arizona State University student who had early access to the labs. "But in virtual reality they can pop these 3D models of molecules in front of you and you can move them around and deconstruct them."

Stone is earning a degree in biology at Arizona State University, which got first crack at the labs. She doesn't live far from the school, but has a young daughter and full-time job as a cybersecurity research consultant, so she's doing her degree remotely. She was one of 30 students in the school's online biology science program to test the headsets during the past semester. Students could borrow a free Lenovo headset from the school, or purchase their own for $400. They do pay a lab fee for virtual classes, which starts at $50.

Stone's first VR course, a lab safety lesson, plopped her down inside a detailed rendering of a lab filled with equipment and chemicals. The scene looks more like a video game world than a real laboratory, but it gets the point across. Stone navigates by pointing a handheld remote. Clicking it accomplishes tasks like donning a lab coat and gloves.

Unlike in a real lab, the virtual reality version of this class forces students to make mistakes. One lesson requires them to spill acid, then clean it up improperly so it blows up in their face. The VR display blurs as students run to the eye wash station.

The other classes call for measuring the cellular respiration of basketball players, and experimenting with viruses on mice. Working with virtual lab animals is another benefit of working in virtual reality.

The classes soon be available at MIT, the University of Texas at San Antonio, and other institutions. Labster offers all its labs as part of a subscription service to schools, and bases the pricing on the number of students. Google said it is an investor in the development of Labster's VR labs, but did not disclose financial details about the partnership.

"Virtual reality can be a powerful resource for students who otherwise would not have access to the labtime they need to complete their degrees," Google said in a blog post announcing the partnership.

While you can peer into a virtual microscope and chat with a virtual patient, the labs lack features like social interactions and the ability to touch and experiment. There are also advantages to doing lab work in a virtual setting. For example, you can manipulate DNA or jump inside a mitochondira.

Some form of online learning has become a standard offering at most U.S. universities. While taking classes online makes sense for lectures, it hasn't always translated for more hands-on degrees. A number of companies have been experimenting with VR classes. Google brings virtual reality to classrooms with its Google Expedition progams, which use a cardboard headset and a phone.

Stone says the technology isn't as intuitive as picking up a smartphone just yet. She hopes that eventually, virtual reality can be used to bring multiple students into the same lab, giving remote students access to something else they're missing: classmates.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 293542

Reported Deaths: 6638
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19601229
Hinds18712386
Harrison16569277
Rankin12637263
Jackson12483219
Lee9671160
Madison9420196
Jones7914146
Forrest7159136
Lauderdale6798226
Lowndes6014137
Lamar585880
Lafayette5716113
Washington5182129
Bolivar4599121
Oktibbeha440391
Panola428392
Pearl River4138128
Warren4122113
Pontotoc408068
Marshall400392
Monroe3981126
Union393673
Neshoba3777167
Lincoln3491100
Hancock341674
Leflore3363118
Sunflower317385
Tate301574
Pike299193
Scott292868
Alcorn290760
Itawamba289072
Yazoo284962
Coahoma276367
Tippah276165
Copiah276057
Simpson272778
Prentiss268858
Leake252171
Marion251578
Wayne251541
Covington248278
Grenada246277
Adams233377
George231145
Newton226352
Winston221375
Jasper212744
Tishomingo211965
Attala206369
Chickasaw200851
Holmes181770
Clay178250
Stone171829
Tallahatchie170039
Clarke168971
Calhoun157128
Smith152431
Yalobusha143536
Greene127233
Walthall123640
Noxubee122829
Perry121434
Montgomery121338
Lawrence119521
Carroll117923
Amite110932
Webster110030
Jefferson Davis101231
Tunica98823
Claiborne97929
Benton93324
Humphreys92427
Kemper89623
Quitman77114
Franklin75619
Choctaw69516
Wilkinson62226
Jefferson61927
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 491849

Reported Deaths: 9869
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson707641366
Mobile35937724
Madison32307450
Tuscaloosa24024410
Montgomery22502499
Shelby21848214
Baldwin19698277
Lee14926151
Morgan13624251
Calhoun13202285
Etowah13154319
Marshall11243208
Houston10058259
Limestone9348134
Elmore9345182
Cullman8879179
St. Clair8799221
Lauderdale8588210
DeKalb8436174
Talladega7500163
Walker6509251
Jackson6483102
Autauga622890
Blount6084125
Colbert6004118
Coffee5235102
Dale4627106
Russell402930
Franklin398876
Covington3949106
Chilton386298
Escambia377472
Tallapoosa3572141
Clarke343149
Chambers3399108
Dallas3397141
Pike292972
Lawrence282284
Marion281295
Winston246266
Bibb244560
Geneva238870
Marengo233755
Pickens223954
Barbour210651
Hale209068
Fayette199956
Butler195265
Henry182041
Cherokee176438
Monroe166038
Randolph163140
Washington156334
Crenshaw144054
Clay143454
Macon141643
Cleburne137139
Lamar132432
Lowndes130749
Wilcox121425
Bullock116336
Conecuh106523
Perry105427
Sumter98331
Coosa88623
Greene87132
Choctaw54923
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