Science lab goes wholly online, virtual and it’s a Nigerian scholar’s invention

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By IKENNA EMEWU
Something new and novel is brewing at the Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, Imo State. It is an innovation at the level the world works towards today.
A Nigerian digital chemist and teacher has taken a bold innovative step of taking the entire chemistry laboratory as you know it in its totality to the internet. Taking it there means you don’t need any physical beakers, pipettes, bunsen burners, chemicals, reagents etc to do your chemistry practicals. All you do is log on to a website and use the simulated equivalents of all those and do your practical of all shades and with much higher accuracy, as the inventor boasted.
Dr. Samuel Azuma assures you that all these are not daydream but scientific reality he has made accessible. Right now, all he needs is support from the right agencies to get it all over the place and assist to make science education more affordable in cost and easily reachable through the internet as easy as you log on to see or send your email or check up any facts on Yahoo or Google.
The victual chemistry innovation is divided into four main sections; e-commerce, e-learning, virtual laboratory section, YouTube and the Journal publication section.
He takes the segments one at a time and today, the most developed and which he solicits aids for further development, deepening and use is the virtual chemistry lab, while the YouTube segment is also running to show in video clips, the processes of the use of the virtual lab. After that, he intends to focus on the full development and use of the journal publications segment that would serve as easy aid to academics to publish their science inventions and usage of the virtual lab online for world wide access.
When all these come into full usage, Azuma believes they would have helped place Nigeria at the centre of scholarship contribution leveraging on the internet benefits.
His push in this area of studies didn’t start today as it dates back to when he introduced digital chemistry in Nekede as a course of study which many other institutions have keyed into in diverse forms and course names such as chemical informatics, computational chemistry or computer application in chemistry. He had acquired his doctorate in Digital Chemistry and majoring in molecular graphics and an earlier masters degree in the same field with additional arm in virtual lab chemistry all from the Atlas University, USA.
But Azuma lamented that; ‘Immediately I came up with the idea and introduced it to the school, a group that didn’t feel comfortable with it started fighting me. The fight was because they have the fear that bringing it on board will stop their business of setting up and equipping the traditional laboratories in the institution. But I am still optimistic that the management of my institution would soon see the reason to give me the necessary support to make this advancement what the school would be known for. Of course, when an institution produces quality research and inventions that influence scholarship all over the world, it raises the rating and credibility of such institution. The major tertiary institutions of repute worldwide are those with pedigree of inventions and research and it’s human beings like us that power such advancement. If my invention catches on, wherever it is mentioned, the school, Nekede must also be mentioned.’
So far, the academic is full of appreciation to the Nekede local chapter of the Nigerian Chemical Association and the national body he said have been so supportive and given all the backing to make the dream of victual chemistry laboratory usage a reality.
Overseas, Azuma’s invention is making waves with its adoption and application in the US, Australia and Indonesia. But here in Nigeria, its usage is yet to catch on, which is what he seeks.
We wondered why Nigeria won’t embrace this landmark in a country that grapples with financing of education as this virtual approach would cut the cost of setting up and running a lab by 90 percent and also make it more accessible to the schools, even with more result accuracy.

Scaling the hurdles
He said; ‘I was the first person in Nigerian to study and major in digital chemistry.
To scale these hurdles of management blockade by those who feel my invention taking over from the traditional lab would entail business loss to them, I articulated the details of this invention in a memo I sent to the Federal Ministry of Education through the former minister asking for support and to make it a model that would be adopted by schools in Nigeria.’
He wrote to the ministry that; ‘I concentrate mainly in developing and putting into use the virtual chemistry laboratory that enables one conduct lab analysis through pure simulation without the use of chemicals.
And if encouraged, I would extend this project to include and cover pharmaceutical chemistry analysis on the internet without the use of chemicals and still getting the results and products with higher and more assured accuracy. They would be deployed into use by NAFDAC to test drug efficacy, fight drug faking and veer into comparative and interactive drug use and chemistry where drugs are developed and integrated to work with improved efficacy with some other drugs in other fields and areas.’

What it means
Virtual Chemistry Laboratory is a set of realistic and sophisticated simulations covering the topics in general chemistry. In these laboratories, students are put into a virtual environment where they are free to make the choices and decisions that they would confront in an actual laboratory setting and in turn, experience the resulting consequences. These laboratories include simulations of inorganic qualitative analysis, fundamental experiments in quantum chemistry, gas properties, titration experiments, and calorimetry. An electronic laboratory section has been added to the end of, which contains problems and laboratory assignments that make use of the sophisticated laboratory simulations in a virtual chemistry lab. The e-lab contains nearly 80 assignment worksheets that correspond to the brief problem descriptions in the e-laboratory sections. Many of these e-laboratory problems are similar to regular problems found in the curriculum but require the student to measure the data in the virtual laboratory instead of having it provided for them. Most assignments, however, are experiments and laboratory work that has not been previously available to general chemistry students, such as the Millikan oil-drop experiment, a Rutherford backscattering experiment, titrations, or gas experiments that test Boyle’s law. A brief description of the five general chemistry laboratories available in the virtual chemistry lab is given below.
The general features of the inorganic simulations include 26 cations that can be added to test tubes in any combination, 11 reagents that can be added to the test tubes in any number of times, necessary laboratory manipulations, a lab book for recording results and observations, and a stockroom for creating test tubes with known mixtures and generating practice unknowns. The simulation uses over 2,500 actual photographs to show the results of reactions and over 220 videos to show the different flame tests. With 26 cations that can be combined in any order or combination and 11 reagents that can be added in any order, there are in excess of 10″possible outcomes in the simulation.
The purpose of the quantum laboratory is to allow students to explore and better understand the foundational experiments that led to the development of quantum mechanics. Because of the very sophisticated nature of most of these experiments, the quantum laboratory is the most “virtual” of the virtual chemistry laboratory simulations. In general, the laboratory consists of an optics table where a source, sample, modifier, and detector combination can be placed to perform different experiments. These devices are located in the stockroom and can be taken out of the stockroom and placed in various locations on the optics table. The emphasis here is to teach students to probe a sample (e.g., a gas metal foil, two-slit screen etc.) with a source (e. g., a laser, electron gun, alpha-particle source, etc.) and to detect the outcome with a specific detector (e.g., a phosphor screen, spectrometer etc.). Heat, electric fields, or magnetic fields can also be applied to modify an aspect of the experiment.
The gas experiments included in the virtual chemistry lab simulated laboratory allow students to explore and better understand the behavior of ideal gases, and Van der Wals gases (a model real gas). The gases laboratory contains four experiments each of which includes the four variables used to describe a gas pressure (P), temperature (T), volume (V), and the number of moles (n). The four experiments differ by allowing one of these variables to be the dependent can be measured and included in the calculations to produce results better than
0. 1 % in accuracy and reproducibility.
The calorimetry laboratory provides students with three different calorimeters that allow them to measure various thermodynamic processes including heats of combustion, heats of solution, and heats of reaction the heat capacity, and the heat of fusion of ice. The calorimeters provided in the simulations are a classic
“coffee cup” calorimeter, a Dewar flask (a better version of a coffee cup), and a bomb calorimeter. The calorimetric method used in each calorimeter is based on measuring the temperature change associated with the different thermodynamic processes. Students can choose from a wide selection of organic materials to measure the heats of combustion ; salts to measure the heats of the solution acids, bases, oxidants, and reductants to measure the heats of reaction ; metals and alloys to measure heat capacity,
Temperature versus time data can be graphed during the measurements and saved to the electronic lab book for later analysis. Systematic and random error in the mass and volume measurements have been included in the simulation by introducing bouoyancy errors in the mass weighing, volumetric errors in the glassware, and characteristic systematic and random errors in the thermometer measurements.

Making best of it
To make these functional and applicable in our education system, we need to adopt a holistic and national retraining of chemistry teachers and technologists in secondary schools, colleges and tertiary institution on the use of ICT chemistry practical.
We also need to restructure e-learning in the country to include chemistry practical using learning management system technology (LMST) and ice to measure the melting process.

5 COMMENTS

  1. This is a welcome development…It will ease the challenges some students go through in some schools with inadequate science equipment. They will have the opportunity of using the visual Lab in conducting the experiments. Also experiments will now be conducted any where without the physical Laboratory…A good one indeed.

  2. Congratulations sir and more grease to your elbow.
    Virtual chemistry is worth a trial and its benefits a very obvious.

  3. Can this program carry out psychochemical parameters etc without stepping into laboratory with accurate results or its for educational purposes?

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