Virtual Learning Helps Civil Engineering Students Grasp Difficult Concepts

Virtual Reality with Chemical Barrier and Model with well showing initial concentration.

Virtual Reality with Chemical Barrier and Model with well showing initial concentration.

Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering, Chandramouli Viswanathan and his students at Purdue Calumet use 3-D models to visualize problems related to ground water contamination.  These modules were created using a NorthWest Indiana Computational Grid (NWICG) grant support during summer 2010. This collaborative research team includes Dr. Viswanathan from Purdue Calumet, Dr. Merwade, Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering from Purdue West Lafayette, Dr. Do, Assistant Professor from Purdue Calumet, Prof. Zhou, Director, CIVS and Mr. Moreland from CIVS.  This innovative technology applied to civil engineering will help to revolutionize and optimize learning effectiveness for students.     According to Viswanathan, it is very difficult to setup field experimentation involving ground water contamination, because this process takes place beneath the ground.  However, with the use of virtual 3D visualization modeling, a more viable platform to create such a virtual lab facility is now available.

The Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation (CIVS) located on the Purdue Calumet campus is multi-disciplinary research centers that teams with faculty across Purdue campuses to create virtual worlds where students and users are immersed in the models that provide a real-world visualization and understanding of any particular system or phenomenon being studied. The virtual ground water research creates a safe, interactive, way for students to experience worlds which are impossible or impractical to explore directly.

In Viswanathan’s civil engineering course, Hydrology and Hydraulics, students study introductory concepts of surface and subsurface flow processes and flood modeling. Combined with their traditional course work, and virtual reality and visualization technology students were able to utilize 3-D models for different site and field conditions, allowing students to change parameters such as hydraulic conductivity, porosity and different solute transport conditions.  This flexibility with the models will provide students a better understanding of the concepts much better.  Student, Steven Vanes, a third year civil engineering student said of his experience with 3-D visualization, “If you can visualize it you can understand”.  And, student, Michael Schmitz, also a third year civil engineering student commented, “The 3-D visualization models bring the concept to life”.

Through the utilization of this user friendly groundwater lab module students are provided an understanding of the expected changes in the movement when the basic parameters were altered according to new site conditions.

Chenn Q. Zhou, Professor and Department head for Mechanical Engineering and founder of CIVS said, “The virtual worlds being created at the center will propel our student’s knowledge and understanding of their course knowledge and practical application of their studies.  This advanced technology is designed to stimulate new intellectual exchanges and critical thinking that are intertwined between the textbook and real-world applications”

Advanced simulation, visualization, and interactive devices can be powerful technologies used to enhance education and training for effective and intuitive learning environments.  Learning in a 3D environments allow for interaction with real-world content.  This concept delivers a real-time, virtual reality application providing electronically generated virtual worlds that allow for creation of interactions.  This new technology is both unique and meaningful for the learner, including “hands on” and “immersive experiences” for the growth and experiential learning for our students and staff at Purdue University Calumet.

Civil Engineering student using the 3D simulation to help learn the concepts behind the ground water project.