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Customizable Virtual X-Ray Laboratory: An Innovative Tool for Interactive Online Teaching and Learning

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Materials Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

24.351.1 - 24.351.12



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Paper Authors


Yakov E. Cherner ATEL, LLC

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Dr. Yakov E. Cherner, a Founder and President of ATEL, LLC, taught science, engineering and technology disciplines to high school, college and university students. He has extensive experience in writing curricula and developing educational software and efficient instructional strategies. Dr. Cherner introduced an innovative concept of multi-layered simulation-based conceptual teaching of science and technology. This instructional approach uses real-world objects, processes and learning situations that are familiar to students as the context for virtual science, engineering and technology investigations. He also proposed and implemented the pioneering concept of integrated adjustable virtual laboratories. To facilitate these methodologies for academic education, corporate and military training, his company developed new ground-breaking e-learning solutions, as well as relevant assessment and authoring tools. Dr. Cherner holds an MS in Experimental Physics, and Ph.D. in Physics and Materials Science. He published over 90 papers in national and international journals and made dozens presentations at various national and international conferences and workshops. Dr. Cherner has served as a Principal Investigator for several government-funded educational projects.

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Maija M. Kuklja University of Maryland College Park

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Alexander Rudy Institute of Physics and Technology of RAS, Yaroslavl Branch

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Customizable Virtual X-Ray Laboratory: An Innovative Tool for Interactive Online Teaching and LearningThe complicated and highly competitive modern engineering education requires fundamentallynew concepts and novel instructional strategies in teaching and learning. As distance educationrapidly grows and becomes incorporated into mainstream science and curricula, truly interactive,simulation-based, online labs, which are capable of partially replacing or extending conventionalhands-on labs, are in increasing demand. The recent phenomenal popularity of engineeringmassive open online courses (MOOC) also prompts requests for authentic online substitutes ofactual laboratory and research equipment suitable for online practices.The customizable simulation-based Virtual Analytical X-ray Laboratories (v-Labs) have beendeveloped to enable students to become familiar with the design and operation of the X-rayequipment and its major features. It allows students to gain practical skills required forconducting actual experiments and acquire the knowledge needed for collecting, analyzing andinterpreting experimental data. Embedded auxiliary simulations help students learn fundamentalphysical principles underlying the analytical methods and equipment design in very visual andinteractive ways. The v-Labs enable students to watch and explore what is going on “under thehood” of the equipment and thus overcome the educational disadvantage of contemporary fullycomputerized X-ray equipments that feel like a “black box”, letting students access only acomputer monitor and a sample holder.In the course of an online experiment, the student should perform all procedures required in anactual experiment: select, prepare and install a sample, choose and set up scanning parameters,etc. After the scanning is completed, the generated X-ray spectrum can be saved for furtherexamination. The v-Labs include programs for data handling and analysis, however the spectrumdata can also be exported in several formats compatible with variety of freely or commerciallyavailable software packages used in research labs for data analysis and structure calculations.An interactive online lesson, as well as prerecorded video lectures, animations, quizzes and otherlearning resources, can be called up within virtual experiments to provide “just-in-time” learningopportunities that address the educational needs of the student.Virtual experiments can potentially be combined with actual experiments and synchronized withreal equipment operated either locally or remotely. Such combinations allow students andteachers to reduce practice time and demand for equipment resources and instrument time, whilestill acquiring hands-on experimental skills. Measured data can be compared with calculated data.An easy-to-use authoring tool enables instructors to customize existing virtual experiments,create new ones, as well as add their own modulus into the collection of accessible samples.The paper discusses the use of the v-Labs in materials science courses at University of Marylandand several other U.S. schools, as well as at Russian universities.The v-Labs can be easily integrated with and become valuable supplements to traditional onlinecourses on natural sciences and engineering including MOOC courses available from edX,Coursera, and Udacity and other courseware providers. The v-Labs have a great potential forfacilitating active online learning and transforming “e-learning by reading and watching” into amore effective “learning by doing”. This interactive way of gaining knowledge matches well thelearning habits of a new generation of students.The screenshot on the top right illustrates a virtual X-ray Powder Diffraction experiment. Theexperiment starts with the selection of a sample to be investigated. Then, just as with the realequipment, the user has to choose and set up scanning parameters, turn on the X-ray radiation,open the shutter, and press the Start scanning button. The student can observe the dynamicBragg-Brentano focusing geometry (left panel in the top right screenshot) or goniometer andactual experiment setting (top left) that in real equipment is hidden under the protective cover.The student is also able to explore the design and operation principles of the major equipmentcomponents (e.g, scintillation detector – shown in the middle left). The detailed step-by-step on-screen experiment instructions guide the student through the experiment.After the scanning is completed, the X-ray pattern can be saved for further examination.While performing the scanning, the user can become familiar with underlying fundamental andengineering principles behind X-ray powder diffraction. The embedded interactive auxiliarysimulation (bottom right) helps students explore how the lattice parameters and X-ray wavelengthaffect diffraction peak positions and thus better understand Bragg’s law.Prerecorded video lectures (left) and other online learning resources can be called from within theexperiment as well.

Cherner, Y. E., & Kuklja, M. M., & Rudy, A. (2014, June), Customizable Virtual X-Ray Laboratory: An Innovative Tool for Interactive Online Teaching and Learning Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20242

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