Virtual Engineering / Science Laboratory

By : Michael Karweit © Johns Hopkins University - With the development of new computer technologies, JAVA--an interactive multimedia programming language, and the WorldWideWeb, it is now possible to simulate engineering and science laboratory projects on a computer. With Internet access, it is now possible to offer students "virtual laboratories" via the WWW or CD-ROM. Experiment-oriented problems can be offered without the overhead incurred when maintaining a full laboratory.

This virtual laboratory, which accompanies the Johns Hopkins University course 500.101 What is Engineering? is an example of the use of this type of technology. The labs listed below are WWW-based engineering/science experiments developed for beginning science and engineering students. The objective of the course and the virtual laboratory is to introduce students to experimentation, problem solving, data gathering, and scientific interpretation early in their careers--perhaps as high school seniors or college freshmen. Ordinarily this exposure would be offered to students in their junior or senior year in a design lab.

The experiments which follow are written in JAVA and are fully interactive. As such, they require that the student access them using the Web browser Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 (or later) operating within a 32-bit operating system (e.g., Windows 95, Windows NT, Unix) and with a display capability of at least 256 colors. (Netscape 3.01 (or later) may also be used with these modules. But, within some operating systems, this browser introduces idiosyncracies in the modules' operation. Earlier versions of Netscape, including 3.0, will not work.) Further, within these experiments are MPEG movie sequences which may require additional software--an MPEG viewer, e.g., VMPEGWIN which is available as demonstration shareware (sufficient for these experiments). This is a project under development. Expect modifications ( and additions and removals).

This work is being supported by a grant from the GE Fund.


1. Logic circuits --Binary logic elements are the basic building blocks for all digital devices. This project consists of creating logical circuits using elementary logic "gates" to effect computer calculations and robotic control. (Contributors: wak, mjk.)

2. Diffusion processes--What do the spreading of a toxic chemical, the cooling of a hot rock, and the absorption of medicine through the skin have in common? They are all the results of diffusion--a process which moves chemicals or heat from regions of high concentration to regions of low concentration. Explore these phenomena using Diffusion Simulator-- a tool for modeling and analyzing diffusion processes. (Contributor: mjk.)

3. Drilling for oil --One of the problems of petroleum engineering is determining the topology of an underlying oil-bearing stratum. In this exercise, the goal is to find this stratum by drilling a sequence of pilot holes and deducing its contour. (Contributors: ckg, wak, mjk.)

4. Robotic arm control --This is a project involving the control of a two-segment robotic arm. The objective is to program the rotational motions of the segments so that the tip of the robotic arm traverses along a specified path. (Contributor: mjk.)

5. Heat transfer in a duct --Deduce the rate at which heat is transfered from a heated, ribbed surface in an air duct. The project centers on obtaining measurements from interference holograms obtained during the running of an actual experiment. (Contributors: mjk, ch.)

6. Bridge designer --Design a truss bridge. Specify loadings and support nodes, and obtain the tension and compression forces on each of its members. (Useful for many statics problems, as well.) (Contributor: mjk.)

7. How many trees? --To obtain the timber value of a large remote area, estimate the number of trees from a Landsat image--a problem in statistical sampling. (Contributor: mjk.)

8. Sound propagation --Sound propagation is affected by wind, temperature, and surfaces. Evaluate these effects by following the trajectories of acoustic rays through an adjustable propagation medium. (Contributors: mjk,phbb.)

9. Heat conduction--When heat is applied at one end of a metal bar, it is distributed by thermal conduction along the length of the bar. If the bar is not uniformly conductive, as in a bar with non-constant cross-sectional area, then that distribution of heat is affected. Can you deduce the cross-section of a bar from temperature profiles or probes? (Contributors: mhl,mjk.) [NOTE: This simulation uses JAVA frames whose implementations are not uniform across all Web browsers. Consequently, there will be minor operational differences and visual differences between earlier and later versions of MSIE and Netscape.]

10. Probability distributions. --Probabilistic events occur throughout nature and science: measurement errors, molecular diffusion, games of chance-- all involve probabilistic events. How outcomes are affected by such events are estimated through the mathematics of statistics and probability. In this simulation, create mathematical expressions which contain random elements and observe the distribution of outcomes.
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