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Virtual reality meets microbiology

Jakob Knape, Lennart Korte, Marie Gorzewski, Jonathan Torbeck, Sharie Kossatz, Jacob Ritter, Zahara Rehan, Max Haarbeck, Dominik Stein, Philipp Popp, Jakob Korbel

Virtual Reality (VR) is a fast-moving technology that can open possibilities in a variety of fields including education. Hereby, enabling students to plan and execute experiments, which would otherwise be inaccessible due to high workload or costs represents a unique advantage of a VR environment. However, to date, a thorough evaluation of VR usability in this context and probing its potential to improve standing teaching methods in a university and research setting is still pending. This project is a proof of concept to demonstrate that VR can accelerate students’ learning process when confronted with new and complex laboratory procedures. In this context we address if a VR has the potential to reach similar educational value compared to lectures, when learning new complex concepts in the field of microbiology. For this, we created a VR application that explains a microbiological experiment interactively. The experiment comprises a microfluidics setup to understand the bacterial response in the presence of antibiotics. Using a lab-on-a-chip configuration it is possible to trap individual bacteria in small channels enabling cell tracking over time combined with monitoring the fate of single cells. Since the experimental procedure is time-consuming, costly, and simply not feasible during a standard practical course as part of a bachelor’s or master’s studies, a VR environment represents a promising alternative. Here, numerous students could perform such complex microbiology experiments simultaneously at an accelerated speed, without the need for actual laboratory space or equipment and only limited by the number of available VR headsets. To answer the research question if a VR indeed could substitute real-life experimental procedures as a training ground, and thus promote their understanding, we aim to conduct a randomised study with biology students. We hope that this project can initiate further research about the capabilities of VR to improve practical-based learning in microbiology but also beyond.