Riley Garlauskas about the class

Having witnessed how students interacted with the VR lab, I found that there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the use of this technology to help students visualize and interact with nanoparticles and particle systems. Once students were logged into the devices, many of them remarked about never having seen three-dimensional structures in this way and told me that this experience was far better than trying to envision what the particles looked like from a two-dimensional projection on a lecture slide. This sentiment was supported by every student I asked about their learning experience in the VR lab as opposed to the traditional classroom setting. One student tied the concepts to her research and talked to me about how she knew the different structures of single-walled carbon nanotubes before the lab but never got to see them in this level of detail and look at them from unconventional perspectives (flying to the the inside and looking out, looking from the top or bottom, seeing the alignment of atoms at an angle, etc.) until she explored them in virtual reality.

When I asked students to consider their favorite part of the lab, the most common answer was going back to the MIDEN to label the different types of nanoparticles they saw throughout the day. Students were generally amazed by the mixed reality environment more than any other aspect of the lab, and many told me that seeing the particles suspended in the air and being able to physically walk around them to look from different angles was even more impressive than the VR environment. The last major question I asked students to gauge their interest was whether they think we should come back to the lab in the future, and every student said without hesitation that they would like to return to the VR lab at some point, even if it’s on their own. Some students even stayed in the lab after class was over to keep exploring what they could do with VR.

One student described his memorable experience in the lab: “Using the VR lab has been an eye-opening experience to say the least. I grew up around technology but had never used a virtual reality headset. I was blown away by the simulations, but using the MIDEN room was mind-blowing. As soon as I got home I had to call my siblings to tell them about how cool it was, and that was just the first day in the XR Lab. I can’t wait to go back” (William Morgan, undergraduate student). It seems that many share his sense of excitement over this technology and its potential, including both VR and especially XR. It was a privilege to be able to help with and facilitate the learning experience of students in virtual and mixed reality, and based on the evidence I gathered from watching how the students used the technology, I believe the inclusion of the lab in this course made it a memorable and unique experience for students and left a lasting positive impression on them.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. 2243104.

Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.