Real-time lab enables experiments anytime, anywhere
For science students, conducting experiments in a laboratory is a key part of their studies but they often face time, resource and equipment constraints. The COVID-19 pandemic has created further challenges for laboratory classes. Supported by the Quality Education Fund, a team from PolyU’s Department of Applied Physics (AP) has provided a solution to these issues by creating a web-based lab. Named “Borderless Lab 365”, it enables experiments to be conducted anytime, anywhere.
The student-centered lab enables remote experiments to be set up in PolyU and performed according to commands given by users, who can monitor the experiments through live cameras, retrieve data and obtain results in real-time. Nine experiment modules are available in the subjects of physics, chemistry and biology, ranging from electromagnetic induction, visible spectrum and bacterial growth to photosynthesis and the greenhouse effect.
The innovative platform contributes to PolyU’s efforts to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and facilitate the learning and teaching of STEM-related subjects at university and secondary school levels. The free platform has already been used by more than 100 secondary school teachers and 700 university and secondary school students. Project leader Dr C. L. Mak, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Physics, explained: “Unlike virtual labs which just simulate experiments, our platform allows students to remotely operate the real lab equipment to conduct experiments with the help of a webcam. Open 24 hours a day, the platform enables self-regulated learning anytime, anywhere through repeated experiments to consolidate findings and strengthen students’ capabilities in data analysis.”
“Borderless Lab 365” has been well received by users, including schools, teachers and students. It has provided a solution for schools, saving them the costs of purchasing and maintaining bulky lab equipment, as well as offering a risk-free lab environment for students. Based on the experimental data and analysis supplied by students, teachers can evaluate students’ abilities and provide appropriate guidance. Meanwhile, students can apply different parameters to their experiments, repeating trials to gather results and practise correct experimental approaches.
“Borderless Lab 365” enables students to operate remotely real lab equipment set up in PolyU to generate experiment results.
The lab development project was awarded the “Asia Gold Award” in the Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education Competition. It is recognised for creating a novel, true-to-life remote laboratory to enhance students’ understanding of experimental methodologies and outcomes.
The remote lab is part of the centralised experimental platform developed by the project team. The platform also includes three mobile apps: “AP Sensor”, “Lab in Your Pocket” and “AR in Physics”. “AP Sensor” turns users’ mobile phones into a portable lab, enabling teachers to co-create experiments with students in their everyday environment. “Lab in Your Pocket” enables students to perform experiments at their own pace and manner, while “AR in Physics” makes abstract physics concepts easier to understand through using augmented reality (AR) technology.