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Students Get an Immersive Nanotechnology Experience in VR Classroom

Students at the University of Arizona can now get a hold of enlarged versions of nano-sized objects within a custom-design virtual reality (VR) classroom. It is a part of Nano 2020, a University of Arizona program for curriculum development and technology aimed towards disseminating education to students about the growing significance of nanotechnology in the domains of life sciences and agriculture.

The tiny size of nanoscale objects makes understanding them quite difficult. In the virtual reality environment, students can observe how scientific data has been modified into images and subsequently used for 3D render generation. Students can observe and get familiar with objects as small as a carbon atom.

The VR classroom is set to offer students the opportunity to gain a vivid experience of something that they only have a theoretical idea of objects, like the detailed appearance of a carbon atom. This can also offer a novel perspective on how this technology can be harnessed for future use. The students are also able to interact with their classmates and instructors. The VR classroom also features multiplayer features, letting students and educators the chance for experiencing real-time connections within a virtual reality environment, from any part of the globe.

Students experiencing the nanotechnology in VR. Image source: UAnews

A group of student programmers and developers led by Ash Black, the Tech Core director in the Eller College of Management, was responsible for developing the technology. Speaking about the prospect of VR development, Black said that he found the technology intriguing as it makes the concept of scale conveniently flexible. He emphasised how nanotechnology was an ideal domain for using VR as it deals with things that are considered to be too small.

The Nano 2020 team, consisting of faculty members from Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona, and Johns Hopkins University, has the objective of creating a non-university-specific online undergraduate course package. This suite of courses can be added and utilised by educators to aid students across the globe. An online library is set to be created to enable the persisting extension of the open-source modules. Developments like the VR classroom will be used to provide education of courses on subjects such as nanomicroscopy procedures, optical microscopy and histology, and magnetic nanotechnology applications.

Professor Matt Mars remarked that he and his associates have created adjustable and robust module-based suites. These let instructors seek out elements they need, and integrate those into pre-existing curriculum set-ups, to create a more thorough nanotechnology learning approach.

Segments of the Nano 2020 syllabus are being distributed as non-compulsory elements within a certificate programme at the University of Arizona’s Department of Agriculture Education, Technology, and Innovation. With greater dissemination in the higher education sphere, the researchers are hopeful of VR classroom technology and curriculum to surpass existing geographical, institutional and discipline-related limitations.

According to Randy Burd, Nano 2020 principal investigator, there are plans to set up an online platform to enable people to download courses and segments, accessible and shareable in a virtual reality environment.

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