Biomedical Engineering Professor Wins SUNY Funding to Enhance Virtual Labs

M. Ete Chan, an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at Stony Brook University, received a SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grant (IITG) for her research, “Lab-in-a-Cube Hands-on Lab Learning with an Automatic Feedback.” IITG funds campus innovations and initiatives in instructional technology that have the strongest potential to be replicated across all SUNY campuses.


The team that collaborated on the Lab-in-a-Cube project.

When it comes to online learning programs, how to handle courses with lab requirements remains a challenge. Lab-in-a-Cube explores virtual access to labs with hardware that acts as a remote control to allow students realistic, hands-on experiences, which includes elements of “gamification” to engage learners with direct feedback on their performance.

“Visually, virtual lab has become more and more realistic nowadays, but many crucial lab components such as tactile skills, decision ­making for preparation and execution of the lab are still missing,” said Chan. “Also, to familiarize students with the sequential steps in a protocol, current virtual labs only require the user to click through the steps without any active decision making. Using the concept of ‘gamification,’ our proposed solution addresses these two issues by adding a hardware component that can interact with software to provide feedback and suggestions to users.”

Similar to video game playing, users can find out how well they perform without any actual expensive equipment. The Lab-in-a-Cube hardware incorporates key shapes and buttons of real lab tools (micropipette, pipette guns, flasks and timers) to give students a realistic experience in their own home.

Dr. Chan acknowledges the contribution of her collaborators and students — especially Richard McKenna from the Department of Computer Science and Wei Lin from Biomedical Engineering — to the success of this proposal, and strong support from BME Chair Clinton Rubin, Associate Provost of Online Education Wendy Tang, and College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean Fotis Sotiropoulos. The Teaching, Learning + Technology Media Lab at Stony Brook will be a new partner to help with the long-term success of the project.

“This competitive grant program continues to position SUNY as a leader in innovative instructional practices while enabling us to take programs that work well at one campus and expand them across SUNY to benefit more of our students, faculty and staff,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher.

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