The Virtual Lab Educational Software
The Virtual Lab is a free, downloadable, CD-ROM-based program providing virtual access to a variety of sophisticated scientific instruments. This project was funded through the NASA Learning Technologies Project and is targeted for high school and entry-level college students.
The project's concept was initiated from educators' desire to have access to sophisticated scientific instruments available at NASA. By providing a fun, hands-on experience that brings relevance to class material, we hope to inspire the next generation of explorers.
Instruments include a scanning electron microscope, or SEM, light microscope, atomic force microscope and an energy dispersive spectrometer for the SEM.
Virtual Lab's instruments let explorers operate a virtual device to examine real specimens. Exhaustive sets of images systematically photographed at hundreds or even thousands of positions and several magnifications allow anyone to zoom in on the minute details of each specimen. Controls on each Virtual Lab device cleverly and smoothly move the viewer through these images to display the specimen as the instrument saw it. Users control position, magnification, focal length, filters and other parameters.
The Virtual Lab library also includes short videos with information about how the instrument works, how it is used at NASA and how the specimens are prepared, as well as instructional videos on how to use the software.
For the latest teacher resources for Virtual Lab, including links for Virtual Lab downloads, please visit NASA's Connecting a Generation to Science: Integrating the Virtual Lab into Your Classroom
. Developed by the University of Central Florida and Saint Leo University in Florida, this site contains a number of teacher resources for integrating Virtual Lab seamlessly into your classroom, including lesson plans, rubrics and quizzes, all aligned with national standards. Educational games linked to microscopy and telescopes also are available on that site at no charge.
The Virtual lab software was written by software developers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Beckman Institute. For development information, visit their Virtual Microscope Web site
For additional information on other free software check the Learning Technologies Project Web site
Beckman Institute has an outreach program called Bugscope that allows schools to remotely control their real scanning electron microscope via the Web. The schools provide the bug, as well as schedule a date and time for the online session. To learn more visit the Bugscope Web site