With the rise of new technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality, there’s also been an interest in what applications they can have besides the video game industry. Since virtual environments can be created with any specification that you want, this allows them to have a wide set of applications, one of these being virtual laboratories for schools. Virtual laboratories give the student the opportunity of making their experiments as if they were in the classroom, but with the facility being able to access them at any time and without the risk of breaking instruments or harming themselves with any substance. These characteristics can be taken advantage in the field of chemistry, by using virtual chemistry labs you can guarantee that the learning process will we the same as if they were manipulating real equipment.
With the use of virtual chemistry laboratories, we can recreate the material that will be used in each practice and also their behavior. By having all the materials necessary for the practices, we can simulate any situation that we want, for example, for a practice that consists of differentiating a compound from a mixture and an element there will be an experimental procedure. For this procedure we will need elements, mixtures and compounds, and different experiments to see their differences. All these procedures can be done in a virtual environment which looks just how it would look like in real life. This gives us more flexibility in the making of the experiments and it also saves time and resources, for example, in a real life practice you would have to wash every instrument that you used after each experiment, which can sometimes take time from the practice. With a virtual laboratory this activity isn’t necessary anymore because just by clicking a button we can reuse any element that we need. This also is convenient because you don’t waste compounds for the practices, everything is virtual.
Another scenario that can be simulated is, for example, the different colors of a flame when you burn different compounds or elements. By doing this on a virtual lab, the risk of getting burn is removed, and also you can make this practice as many times as you want, with as many elements as you want, and without wasting real life material.
For the practices where weighing an element or compound is needed, you can use the balance simulated in the lab, or in practices where you need a centrifuge machine for mixing elements, you can also use the one simulated in the lab, and by using this you also save time. If this procedure takes ten minutes or twenty minutes in a real life environment, in a virtual one this can be done in much less time, giving us the same result as it would with a real machine.
The biggest advantage of using a virtual laboratory for chemistry is that we remove the risk of damaging the equipment, and we also remove any accident that could occur to the student or to the personal working there, it also gives every student the opportunity of participating in all the process. Since most laboratory practices are made in teams, not every member of the team would have the same participation in the practice, for example, some student would weigh a component, the other would write the observations, another would wash the equipment and each team member would do a different task, but with the virtual lab the students can be more involved, each one making their own practice without having to worry that if they overuse an element they may end it and there would be no more for the other team, or if they need to heat something on a hot plate, they don’t have to wait all the time for it to heat. By making their own practices, they can later discuss their results with their team, achieving a greater understanding of the content.
By Sofia Indira Calderón Alvarez