Asee peer logo

A 3-D, Interactive Virtual Instruction Laboratory

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Nuclear and Radiological Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Nuclear and Radiological

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.14.1 - 24.14.6

Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Ye Li Univ of Illinois

visit author page

A first-year graduate student at the University of Illinois.

visit author page

author page

Rizwan Uddin University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

author page

Xuefeng Zhu

author page

Imran Haddish

Download Paper |


A 3D, Interactive Virtual Instruction Laboratory Imran Haddish, Ye Li, Xuefeng Zhu and Rizwan-uddin Department of Nuclear, Plasma, and Radiological Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL 61801,, rizwan@illinois.eduIntroduction lab (right) and its virtual counterpart (left). Some, and not necessary all, of the buttons, switches and displays onEffective utilization of new computer technologies is these models may be made “live”, i.e., a user can useessential to furthering engineering education and them to turn the equipment on or off, or set parameterencouraging youth to pursue studies in engineering and values (by clicking on the object). A live data display partengineering technology. Laboratories are a very important is programmed to display the data (from a real timepart of such training. Recent increase in the student simulation, experiment or pre-generated).population in nuclear engineering programs has putstrains on laboratory resources. This increase in studentpopulation, constraints on resources and qualitativeimprovements in gaming technology have led towardexploration of virtual, game-like models to provide theneeded experience. Though virtual lab experience maynever completely replace an actual physical labexperience in educational institutions, in some waysvirtual labs may provide a better experience than limitedcookbook style executions in a physical lab or reactor Fig. 1. A side-by-side view of a gamma-ray spectrometeroperator training course. in the lab (right) and its virtual counterpart (left).We have earlier reported our initial efforts toward thedevelopment of a generic virtual and interactivelaboratory environment [1]. This virtual lab presents afully immersive learning experience. We here report thespecifics of a radiation lab in which half-life and shieldingexperiments can be conducted, and simulation-based real-physics data can be gathered.Virtual LabThe primary resource for the development of a virtual labis a game engine. Built-in features in modern gameengines provide easy and quick development of the lab, as Fig. 2. Virtual model of a device showing livewell as reduce the effort needed to develop the virtual switches/buttons and digital displays.operational procedure (user interaction step) of the lab.The development process of the virtual lab consists of In the event scripting part, the developer needs to decidethree major parts: environment modeling; event scripting; how much control to give to the end user. This can varyand user interaction. The physics model of the experiment from limited control (limited number of movable objectsto be conducted also needs to be scripted. Depending on and control of a few switches and buttons) to as muchthe complexity of the laboratory space, the environment control as they would have in real life. Figure 2 shows themodeling part can be carried out in either a 3D modeling model of an ORTEC power supply and a timer-plus-software, or inside the game engine, such as Unity 3D. counter, which is used to conduct the experiment andFor generic items such as rooms, ladders, tables, chairs, display the data in the two radiation experiments. At thiscomputer monitors, etc., the game engines provide point, two of the buttons (a unit selector for setting thesufficient support. However, for specific items such as a time; and a parameter value setting button) are live. TwoGeiger counter, spectrometer, etc., model may need to be of the digital display units are also live. One shows thedeveloped in a 3D modeling software. Number of custom value of the parameter controlled by the live button, andmade components increase if the virtual lab needs to the second shows the value of the measured quantityappear like a real (physical) lab. Figure 1 shows a side- (counts). The device works as it would in real life, so theby-side view of a digital gamma-ray spectrometer in the student must understand how to use it. Procedures for thetwo virtual labs developed so far are very similar to the scale, allowing the students to measure their thickness.procedures student follow in the physical lab. Physics Next, clicking on the block moves it to the space betweenmodels have also been implemented to calculate and the radiation source and the detector. Counts can then bedisplay data in real time that would be, for all practical measured by setting the time interval. Process is repeatedpurposes, indistinguishable from the data that would be for different number of shielding blocks; thus gatheringgathered in the corresponding physical lab. Figure 3 data for different thicknesses. Entire process can then beshows a comparison of the physical lab and its virtual repeated for blocks made of different material. Figure 4counterpart. shows the lead shielding blocks, labeled A, B, C, …, for use in the shielding experiment. Figure 5 shows the thickness measurement step. Figure 6 shows two of the shielding blocks placed in between the radiation source (on the left) and the detector (on the right). Collimator blocks can also be seen.Fig. 3. A picture of the physical lab (left) and a screenshot of the virtual lab (right).Half-Life (Virtual) LabIn this experiment, physics model is programmed tocalculate and display the radiation counts from a radiationsource whose half-life is to be measured. Students set thetime interval over which the count is to be measured, and Fig. 5. Virtual lab showing the step where the studentthen click to start the count. The counts are displayed, measures the thickness of the shielding block by placing itand automatically stop after the pre-set time interval is against a measuring scale.reached. Students wait for a pre-specified interval andthen repeat the process, noting down the counts. Counts Student Experience and Improvementsdisplayed are calculated using an exponential function (e-λt ), with the half-life of the sample radiation source. Noise The two virtual labs were used by students during the fallis added to the calculated count rate before displaying it, of 2012. Initial feedback has been very positive, thoughto make the data more realistic (and to make it different there are recommendations that are likely to furtherfor different runs). improve the student experience. Based on the recommendations from last year, more assistant instructions were added to further improve the virtual laboratory experience. In addition to these improvements, a new micro sensor - Leap Motion Controller – is now under calibration and will be integrated into the virtual lab to provide users with more realistic control of the lab equipment.Fig. 4. Virtual lab showing the shielding blocks (labeledA, B, C …) and the shielding experiment.Shielding (Virtual) LabIn this lab, the attenuation coefficients of four differentmaterials are to be measured. Physics model is based onthe attenuation model (e-µμΔx), where Δx is the thickness ofthe shielding material. Student can click on the shielding Fig. 6. Virtual model showing two blocks placed inblocks placed on the table, which moves them next to a between the source and the detector.References 1. IMRAN HADDISH, RIZWAN-UDDIN, YE LI, “FULLY INTERACTIVE VIRTUAL LABS FOR TRAINING AND EDUCATION”, Proc. ANS CONTE Meeting, Jacksonville, FL (2013).

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015