Learn Science Without Stepping Foot in the Lab

Learning science from home can be challenging - without a lab, how can you run experiments or see scientific theories come alive? Luckily, the Internet has a solution: the virtual lab. Many universities and science organizations are now offering online simulations and guided Web projects on everything from bacterial identification to the latest scientific controversies. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Virtual Science Projects

Not having access to a fully-equipped laboratory has always been a major barrier to would-be science learners. This can be a challenge for both home learners and students at public schools that lack the resources for state of the art lab equipment. It can also make it difficult for teachers to assign science homework that is as engaging and interactive as in-classroom projects.

However, a new trend is making it easier and easier for home learners and K-12 students to gain access to the latest scientific knowledge. Virtual labs run by universities and science organizations are cropping up all over the Web. These online learning environments typically offer simulations, interactive projects and instructional resources - for free.

The University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California - Berkeley and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) offer just a few of these new online laboratories.

CU Boulder: PhET

The PhET project at CU Boulder offers free interactive simulations of physical phenomena such as how light bends, what resonance looks like, how neurons function and how forces and motion interact. The simulations provide an easy, visually-based way to understand concepts from biology, physics, chemistry, math and earth science. There is also a section of simulations based on the latest scientific research coming out of the CU Boulder labs.

Teachers seeking to use the site to supplement classroom projects can view simulations by appropriate grade level: elementary, middle, high school or university. Many of the simulations have also been translated into over 50 different languages, from Spanish to Vietnamese to simplified Chinese.

UC Berkeley: WISE

The Web-based Inquiry Science Environment (WISE) at UC Berkeley, which is also supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), provides a different kind of online science lab. Rather than focusing on broad concepts, WISE offers interactive lessons covering hot science-related topics such as recycling, climate change and hybrid cars. The free, Web-based software offers students tools for causal modeling, data visualization, simulations and assessments of virtual experiments.

Although it's also free for self-learners, WISE works best as an extension of the classroom environment. It's designed to encourage collaboration and interaction, both through the computer and in person. It's a great resource for science teachers who want to assign engaging and challenging group homework projects that don't require access to a lab.

HHMI: Virtual Labs Series

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute offers a free, award-winning series of 'bio-interactive' simulations in its Virtual Labs. The simulations don't require anything more than a Web browser and the free Adobe Shockwave plug-in. Users are guided through a wide variety of interactive biology projects, such as diagnosing different types of heart disease or making transgenic flies. (A transgenic organism, according to HHMI, is one that contains DNA that has been experimentally inserted by a researcher.) Available topics include biodiversity, neuroscience, evolution, genetics, cancer, obesity and much more.

This site is great for both self-learners and enrolled students. No additional resources are necessary for individuals learning on their own, but teachers can also use these simulations as fun, interactive supplements to classroom learning.

Looking for more ways to learn about science online? Check out the games in Cognitive Fun.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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