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Assessment Of A Virtual Laboratory For Geotechnical Engineering

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.94.1 - 4.94.13

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Paper Authors

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Timothy Robert Wyatt

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Pedro Arduino

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Emir Jose Macari

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1620

Assessment of a Virtual Laboratory for Geotechnical Engineering

Timothy Robert Wyatt, Pedro Arduino, Emir Jose Macari Georgia Tech / University of Washington / Georgia Tech


In the study of engineering science phenomena, there is no substitute for hands-on experience opportunities. However, despite the extent to which laboratories are commonplace in engineering education, many obstacles stand in the way of achieving satisfactory hands-on experience. The cost of laboratories and associated experiments, in terms of time, space, and finances, limits the complexity of experiments that can be performed and limits the extent of any lab test series. At some smaller schools, these costs can result in the elimination of laboratory experiences altogether. Additionally, because many undergraduate students have only a basic level of technical ability, lab experiments must be limited to demonstrations of phenomena that are physically obvious (e.g., that a soil sample will deform under load). Virtual reality environments have been proposed as a partial solution to these obstacles. After the initial software development, the cost of preparing and performing laboratory tests is negligible. Multiple tests can be performed, with variations in loading conditions, material types, and boundary conditions, enabling students to observe the more specific details of material behavior as well as general deformation behavior. In addition to serving as an augmented laboratory experience, the virtual environment has potential both as a lecture tool, to present concepts that can not be demonstrated on a two-dimensional blackboard, and as a vehicle for individual student exploration. However, the application of virtual environments always sparks arguments that a simulation is not reality, and that it may have the potential to mislead students about real- world material behavior. In this research project, a virtual-reality geotechnical laboratory is introduced into a graduate-level soil mechanics course. The software is made available to students for individual experimentation, and is assigned for use to complement lecture material about critical-state soil mechanics. Log files are used to identify student usage patterns, and to correlate individual student performance with exploratory use of the environment. Preliminary observations and conclusions based on this pilot project are presented.

I. Background

The Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering incorporates laboratory testing into both its undergraduate and graduate soil mechanics curricula. Graduate students in the Geosystems program at Georgia Tech are required to take four core courses: a course in fundamental soil mechanics (CE 6150), two lab testing courses (CE 6151 and 6161), and a course in field testing and measurement (CE 6162). At the culmination of the lab testing series, each student (as a member of a four-person team) performs two triaxial strength tests, one under drained conditions and one under undrained conditions. These are performed on identical soil specimens; typically a sandy material so that excess pore pressures will dissipate quickly in the drained test and thus the test can be performed in a short time. Comparing results from the two

Wyatt, T. R., & Arduino, P., & Macari, E. J. (1999, June), Assessment Of A Virtual Laboratory For Geotechnical Engineering Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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