StanLab is a 3D virtual laboratory for secondary school students in Nigeria. Job Adeleke Oyebisi tells us how it works and why he wanted to be a part of it.
Why did you create StanLab?
Some schools in Nigeria don’t have science laboratories and those that do are poorly funded and don’t have the proper equipment. Students without access to science labs might struggle to grasp practical scientific concepts, but are still expected to take the standard exams and so are at a disadvantage.
Our solution is to provide the same experience that you would have in a physical laboratory on a laptop or desktop computer, using virtual reality. Students can do the same basic experiments that they would in a physical laboratory.
What does a 3D lab look like?
You can see the lab on a screen, like a movie, but you can interact with what you see on the screen. You can touch the objects, lift them and put them down on a surface.
What kind of experiments can you do in the virtual lab?
One experiment we are prototyping in schools is the acid-base titration lab experiment. It is part of the curriculum in several countries.
In the acid-base titration lab experiment, learners follow instructions to put together the titration setup and pour acid into a burette. Then they release the acid base in the flask to see a colour change when they get to the point of titration.
In our virtual lab, students are guided by prompts and instructions to follow the same procedures as they would in a physical lab.
Two advantages of the virtual lab are that learners can practice experiments as many times as needed, and there is no danger of spilling potentially harmful chemicals.
How did you build the virtual lab?
We used open source 3D modelling software to model the laboratory, equipment and materials. Then we built interactions and animations in the lab in Unity 3D, a cross-platform 3D engine.
We wanted to show learners how science applies to their everyday lives. For example, we show them how titration applies to the real world. You would use it in medicine, to test the concentrate of urine and to test if a person has high blood sugar or low blood sugar.
We gathered together people with subject matter expertise and consulted materials from the Royal Society of Chemistry to see how they designed this kind of thing in the past.
We use scenarios that students can relate to. In one example, we have a story of a lorry tanker driving by a river that is involved in an accident, spilling some of its chemical contents (hydrocholoric acid) into the river.
The students are tasked with running the experiment to assess the environmental impact in the scenario. The learners learn how the titration experiment can be used to analyse the level of contamination, and how acidic or how basic the river water has become.
How many people did it take to build the 3D virtual lab?
We’re a team of 11 people. Two people designed the models, another three worked on designing the interface for the lab. Two people were programming the interactions with the lab. And we had other people designing story boards and other features.
I wish we could have more members for our team. There has been a lot of work and learning along the way, and making mistakes too. For many of us, it’s the first time building something like this.
One of the challenges we had was getting people who’ve built something similar to work with us. My colleague who led the 3D model design had never done anything like this before. I introduced him to the ideas as we don’t have many people in Nigeria who can do 3D model design. It took him two months to work and perfectly design the models.
Would students have access to a device and an internet connection to access the virtual lab?
Not always, and the schools at least need a computer. We use CD drives and install the programme directly on the computer. Internet access in rural area can be very poor, so we can't expect schools and students to download the programme.
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