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Development Of A Nanoscale Virtual Environment Haptic Interface For Teaching Nanotechnology To Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Outstanding Contributions to Mechanical Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Mechanical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.471.1 - 14.471.15



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Paper Authors


Dianne Pawluk Virginia Commonwealth University

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Currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, VCU.

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Curtis Taylor University of Florida Orcid 16x16

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Currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of Florida.

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Marcia Hoffman Virginia Commonwealth University

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Completed her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering at VCU.

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Maria McClintock Virginia Commonwealth University

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Completing her undergraduate degree in engineering at VCU.

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

Development of a Nanoscale Virtual Environment Haptic Interface for Teaching Nanotechnology to Individuals who are Visually Impaired


Nanotechnology is a relatively new, exciting and growing area of research in which governments, educators and researchers, alike, are interested in attracting K-12 and undergraduate students to pursue future careers. However, how things interact at the small scale of a nano-environment can be difficult for these students to understand and conceptualize. This is particularly true for students who are visually impaired, as most current explanations and pedagogical methods heavily rely on 2-D visual diagrams or molecular-scale images. These methods are also potentially limited in their engagement of sighted students, whom have a diversity of learning styles. Therefore, there is a need for new methods, for both visually impaired and sighted students, to aid in their engagement to understand nanoscale concepts and to pique their interest about the field of nanotechnology. In this paper, we describe the development of a haptic feedback system interfaced with a nanoscale virtual environment to facilitate exploration, perception and conceptualization of nanoscale science and engineering concepts. The system is especially accessible to individuals who are visually impaired since, through haptics, it provides a physical mechanism to aid in perception and conceptualization of nanoscale forces and objects. An overview of learning modules and instructional material for use with the haptic interface are discussed.

The current state-of-the-art in the use of haptics for nanotechnology has focused on high-end (>$10,000) devices for real-time nano-telemanipulation of nanoscale microscopy instrumentation such as an atomic force microscope (AFM) or visualization of complex (molecular scale) research simulations. Here we consider a more widely accessible avenue for K-12 and undergraduate instruction: using a relatively inexpensive force feedback device, the Novint Falcon Force Feedback Game Controller ($189) inside a virtual environment. This makes the instructional material cost effective, easier to use, and amenable to implementation in high school and college classrooms. It also allows a student to easily switch between experiencing the macroscale and nanoscale for comparison purposes, facilitating the learning process by allowing them to relate the nanoscale to something they are familiar with.

Two modules have been developed introducing nano-topologies and nano-forces to students in comparison to the macro-world. For the actual implementation on the Novint Falcon, both the macro- and nano-surface topologies are simulated using an analog of AFM--a relatively stiff virtual spring is used to model haptic contact of a probe with the surface. The student can then move the probe-shaped handle of the Falcon to follow the topology of the hard surfaces. For sighted students, the corresponding visual graphics are also presented. For describing the interaction forces, mathematical equations are used directly to describe a probe tip interacting with a flat surface, with gravity and inertia dominating at the macroscale, and van der Waals and electrostatic forces dominating at the nanoscale. The student is able to move the Falcon towards and away from the surface, at the different scales, to feel the contribution of the different forces. They are also able to “turn-off” components of the net force to enable understanding of the effects of individual types of forces.

Pawluk, D., & Taylor, C., & Hoffman, M., & McClintock, M. (2009, June), Development Of A Nanoscale Virtual Environment Haptic Interface For Teaching Nanotechnology To Individuals Who Are Visually Impaired Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5234

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