Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (SPAIN)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2015 Proceedings
Publication year: 2015
Pages: 2141-2147
ISBN: 978-84-606-5763-7
ISSN: 2340-1079
Conference name: 9th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 2-4 March, 2015
Location: Madrid, Spain
Virtual labs are important teaching tools that allow students to perform lab practices whose implementation is few possible, for different reasons.
The experience of Technical University of Madrid, Spain (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, UPM) with virtual labs began in 2011, under educational innovation projects (Experimentation platform for Engineering and Architecture studies-UPM). Once these projects were finished, our university has given continuity to these labs as a service managed by GATE (Gabinete de Tele-Educación).

The Chemistry Experimentation virtual lab is formed by three buildings. In one of them, the avatar can access different audiovisual materials, and there is a lab where basic operations and simple experiments can be carried out. In the other two buildings, lab practices with students of the Civil Engineering Degree can be performed.

From this point, the initial aims have been extended, and a lab practice for the determination of metals in polluted soils by sample digestion in a microwave oven and subsequent analysis by ICP-AES has been developed. This technique allows the performance of multielement quantitative analysis at trace levels, although its use requires trained technicians and its cost is high due to argon consumption, which makes it difficult to use it with the students. Although we know that a Civil Engineer is not going to carry out this kind of analysis, in our opinion, this must be a part of their university formation, since it may provide them with knowledge and a real vision of the importance of the quality of this type of results, which we think it might improve the environmental awareness of the future Civil Engineers.

The Chemistry Experimentation virtual lab in 3D is developed in the open code platform Open Simulator (OpenSim), which creates virtual worlds that are accessible through a 3D viewer. This platform allows managing independent or connected regions by a grid, which facilitates the location of the different labs housed in the virtual lab space of UPM.

Initially, it was necessary to adapt the available spaces to the specific requirements of the lab practice, so two more buildings have been created: one of them is designed for the sample digestion by microwave oven, and the other one for the analysis by ICP-AES. Different types of materials, apparatus and instruments have been created, with many details that give them a most real aspect.

The greater difficulty in the implementation of a lab practice, where an experimental procedure must be followed, is the need to control a high quantity of objects, which requires a communication between them and the control of message flow.

During the development process of the virtual lab practice, two pilot experiences have been carried out with volunteer students. These tests have allowed fixing bugs and adding enhancements, in order to make the experimental procedure of the lab practice easier to follow.

This lab practice has been included in the planned program for the academic course 2014-2015 of the subject “Environmental Science” (third Degree year, second semester, around 180 students) of the Civil Engineering Degree (School of Civil Engineering, UPM).
Virtual lab, Chemistry, metals, polluted soils, students of Civil Engineering Degree.