Physical laboratory experiments are built to provide students with hands-on opportunities and have long been crucial for engineering training. However, due to the rapid growth in number of enrollments, limited and shared space, undergraduate students have experienced an increasing difficulty gaining valuable hands on experience in the lab. While traditional lab should never be abandoned, adding virtual labs to assist with it could benefit students without the limitation of enrollment capacity or lab availability. In this paper, we discussed a pilot study of developing a virtual fluid mechanics laboratory to supplement existing physical lab exercises.
The virtual lab was designed to enrich students’ lab experience, stimulate interests, and bring more individual exercise time. It was developed to contain two components: a virtual lab tour and a virtual reality (VR) simulated pump experiment. The virtual tours served as a pre-lab instruction tool that provided students with an overview of the fluid mechanics lab. The VR pump experiment replicated the physical experience of performing the physical lab.
Preliminary feedbacks were positive for both components of the virtual lab. Students considered that the virtual tours were very informative and useful, while that the VR pump lab was intuitive and time-saving. This proved that with realistic lab simulations, the virtual lab had great potential to provide students more flexibility to perform hands-on experiment and to develop technical acumen outside of the physical classroom. Further improvement was discussed to implement in the next stage to create more immersive experience in assistance of the lab instruction.