The Virtual Labs project of the Union government allows S&T students to do laboratory experiments anywhere, anytime. ABDUL LATHEEF NAHA says it is a collection of 91 virtual laboratories containing hundreds of experiments in nine disciplines.
Physical distances and lack of resources will no longer be a hurdle for students of science and technology in conducting laboratory experiments. They can conduct laboratory experiments from wherever they are at a time of their convenience.
The Virtual Labs project, inaugurated by Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal in February, is set to revolutionise the study of science and technology in the country.
Virtual Labs, developed with a grant from the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT) of the Ministry, offers virtual reality in experiments.
It is a collection of 91 virtual laboratories containing hundreds of experiments in nine disciplines of science and engineering, devised as part of a comprehensive undertaking to provide easily accessible and high-quality education throughout India.
Students from anywhere in the world can now conduct virtual laboratory experiments if they have a computer and an Internet connection. Using the Internet, they can access remote labs in various disciplines of science and engineering.
“Though the rural engineering students are the target audience, the project is going to benefit all kinds of students, including high school students,” said Prof. K.V. Gangadharan, the Principal Investigator in charge of the Virtual Labs at National Institute of Technology (NIT), Karnataka.
Apart from NIT, Karnataka, the engineering institutions involved in the project are the Indian Institutes of Technology, Delhi, Bombay, Kanpur, Kharagpur, Madras, Roorkee, and Guwahati; the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad; Amrita University; Dayalbagh University; and College of Engineering, Pune.
“This project will provide you a lab at your place, no matter where you are. This will not replace the normal laboratory. Rather, this will complement the lab work. It will provide more time for slow learners,” Prof. Gangadharan said.
Apart from arousing the curiosity of students, Virtual Labs will help them learn basic and advanced concepts through remote experimentation. The project will help students share costly equipment and resources, which are usually available only to a limited number of users.
Nearly 300 department heads, faculty, and staff representing 152 institutions from across the country have been trained. Several dozens of nodal centres have been set up.
There are two types of Virtual Labs: simulation-based labs and remote- triggered labs.
Simulation-based labs depend on mathematical equations. The simulations are carried out remotely at a high-end server, and the results are communicated to the student over the Internet. These labs are scalable and can cater to a large number of simultaneous users.
Actual experiments are triggered remotely in the second type of labs. The output of the experiment (being conducted remotely) is communicated back to the student over the Internet. This class of virtual labs gives the student the output of real-time experiments.
Time slots have to be booked before conducting such experiments. All Virtual Labs can be accessed through a common website, www.vlab.co.in.
The Virtual Labs will be a boon for engineering students from rural areas. “It is curious enough to kindle the inquisitiveness of high school students also, motivating them to take up higher studies,” said Tessy Anto, Principal of Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School, Kottakkal.
More than creating Virtual Labs, the project has given shape to a collaborative platform where the faculty of different institutions will mutually assist and support in authoring and maintaining the labs. The platform hosts over 825 experiments developed by many of the partner institutions.
“The collaborative platform will ensure that virtual labs are run securely and more effectively and serve thousands of students simultaneously. It will offer tools to help teachers monitor their students' progress and make changes to the instructional material,” said Krishnashree Achuthan, Principal Investigator at Amrita University.
Dr. Achuthan said the biggest attraction of Virtual Labs was that they gave a complete visualisation of what was being experimented.
“In virtual labs, you can actually get to see and learn what you can't even see in a real lab,” she said.
“You don't need a teacher at all. It is extremely well detailed, and uses simple English.”
Virtual Labs will soon be available in other Indian languages also. It will be fun and study for all kinds of students.