Chemistry and Biochemistry

Dr. Brian F. Woodfield Launches Virtual Biology Lab

Posted: Aug 19, 2010

BYU professor of physical chemistry Dr. Brian F. Woodfield recently launched a virtual lab that will allow biology students to gain needed lab experience without the expense of a real lab.

"We cannot afford to do a real lab experience for that many students," the Daily Universe quoted Dr. Keith Crandall, biology department chair and co-creator of the virtual lab. "Virtual biology really looked like a great option for giving a lab experience to a large number of students for a low cost."

"The virtual biology lab offers students an opportunity to do biology experiments and observations from the comfort of their own computers," Boston Blake wrote in the Universe article. The lab has information on 150 species to give students a basic understanding of the biological world and allows them to do things they would normally never be able to do, such as DNA and molecular work, the Universe and respectively reported.

"We don't tell the student what they want to do; we have the equipment there so they can use it," Dr. Riley Nelson, a biology professor who also helped create the virtual biology lab, told the Universe. "So this is inquiry learning, which education research has shown students retain that information longer in their heads."

"Doing it on a computer in a virtual lab allows them to focus on the thinking, because now they don't have to worry about making mistakes, or the cost, or the time associated with experiments," Dr. Woodfield said to KSL.

Dr. Woodfield first thought of creating virtual labs while he was attending the University of California at Berkeley as a graduate student. Serving as a TA for a lab class at Berkeley, he observed to the Universe, "Nobody was paying attention to what they were doing; they were just following their directions. They got their results, they reported their answers, but I don't think any student really learned anything about what they were doing."

Dr. Nelson hopes the new lab offers students a glimpse of what he finds interesting about biology, theUniverse reported. "Many people are interested in the living world, he (Nelson) said, and this virtual lab offers students a way to understand how they fit into the big picture of the universe, world and ecosystem in which they live."

 By Jessica Henrie

For more information, please see the following links:

Virtual lab takes the lab to students The Daily Universe

BYU professor launches biology virtual lab KSL