1 Otto von Guericke University Magdeburg (GERMANY)
2 German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies Hannover (GERMANY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN21 Proceedings
Publication year: 2021
Pages: 476-483
ISBN: 978-84-09-31267-2
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2021.0146
Conference name: 13th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-6 July, 2021
Location: Online Conference
The world has gone through a number of changes within a short period of time since the Corona Virus spread in 2019. One major area that needed an immediate transformation was education. While many theoretical sciences and faculties could quickly adapt to the demanding situation, other areas, especially related to engineering applications, still face major issues. Engineers typically deal with apparatuses and machinery at different lengths and with various practical and technical realizations. Process engineering in particular, is a discipline dedicated to the production of daily products such as food, chemicals, building materials, pharmaceuticals etc. The scales of production and research vary from the Nano and micro meter ranges to apparatuses of several 10s of meters high. These processes are often equipped with sensors that control the operation in terms of temperature, pressure, or concentration of substances. The Pandemic has severely affected activities in this subject area, where hands-on training and practical laboratory courses are usually mandatory for the professional education.

Chemical processes that take place in laboratories have always faced challenges in their knowledge transfer. These processes require two- and three-dimensional representations of their functioning as the textual and/or diagrammatic depiction cannot cover all necessary dimensions. A high proportion of teaching has traditionally occurred inside laboratories and other facilities that support hands-on training. With the sudden rise in restrictions over these physical facilities, these processes will now have to be made available to the students and trainees at their homes with minimal room for variations from the original physical experience. Apart from the accuracy of the depiction of the processes, the other major challenge that needs to be addressed is the experience of an actual lab experiment. This includes the experience of the changes of different process parameters and their interdependencies. Such a possibility will also be helpful in cases where laboratories are not accessible.

With these considerations, we developed a simulated laboratory in a 3D virtual reality environment using the Game Engine Unity showcasing a basic process engineering unit operation. The chosen operation is single stage batch distillation, a fundamental example from the curriculum of process engineers. It introduces basic mathematical and physical principles that are generally required for solution approaches especially in thermal process engineering applications. The users can modify various parameters such as the molar concentration and liquid volume of the substances with a visible impact on the reactions visualized for the experiment. The entire process is backed by scientific equations and demonstrated by a series of accurate animations. The depiction is supported by graphical and textual representations of the variation of the molar concentration of individual components with respect to their volume.

The developed training system aims at increasing the level of understanding by means of a highly interactive user interface as a substitute for laboratory work which is realized with the tools in Unity. The setup is built as Windows and Android Applications paving a path of increased availability and affordability for higher education in the future.
Distance Learning, Process engineering, Unity3D, Virtual Reality, Visualisation