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WVU offers all biology, chemistry and physics labs online this summer

The West Virginia University Eberly College of Arts and Sciences is ahead of many other universities across the country in offering all biology, chemistry and physics labs online this summer. 

This is the first time WVU has offered all basic labs online. In many classes, it means students can experience even more in the online lab than they could in a face-to-face lab.  

“Our departments’ abilities to swiftly and skillfully move laboratories online demonstrates our commitment to students’ academic progress and success,” said Gregory Dunaway, dean of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. “I’m proud that the faculty and staff of our College are contributing to the excellent tradition of teaching and research at WVU, particularly during this most challenging time.”

The C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry, for example, is offering custom online labs, using a carefully vetted chemistry lab simulation program. Offerings include general, organic, survey and preparative chemistry courses, along with select upper-division courses.

Gregory Dudley, the chemistry department chair and Eberly Family Distinguished Professor, said, “The custom chemistry lab simulations feature virtual labs and real data as well as course-specific content. Our faculty teaching the courses have also developed online materials to align with and advance future on-campus lab experiences.” 

Faculty in the Department of Biology are also working diligently to create a rich online learning experience for students. 

For example, Associate Professor Dana Huebert Lima will supervise Biology 220, “The Living Cell,” a popular course for biology and other related majors in fields such as medicine, dentistry, medical laboratory science, disease research or clinical research. The course will include a semester-long study of the techniques used to understand viruses and test for viral infections—including COVID-19. 

“The main clinical test for COVID-19 measures viral genomes, so it can be used to tell if someone has an active infection,” Huebert Lima said. “Researchers have also begun using antibody-based tests to see who might have been infected previously but are asymptomatic, which will help us get a handle on the spread of the virus.” 

All of the tests use molecular biology techniques. Through the simulations available on the online platform, students will learn how the tests work and will design one for another family of viruses.

“The move to online learning will provide time to discuss many techniques that we couldn't usually discuss in-person because of time constraints and the expense of molecular techniques,” Huebert Lima said. “We will focus on finding and discussing molecular biology techniques in the news, analyzing the data produced and interpreting that data in context. Students will design experiments to solve real-world problems.” 

Thanks to work underway in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the transition to moving physics labs online has been successful. Over the past several years, the department has worked to revise and focus its laboratory courses on active learning.

 “Physics labs traditionally add a hands-on component to learning physics concepts,” said Paul Miller, the department’s chair of undergraduate studies and a teaching associate professor. “Physics education research has shown that it’s essential that labs be taught using active participation, giving students the chance to make decisions about the process of data collection and analysis to conduct authentic investigations.”

That’s exactly what students in WVU’s physics labs will get to do online. Students will work with interactive video clips and simulations. They can pause, step through frames, select options for various physical properties or objects, take measurements and do calculations.

For more information about the online labs, WVU’s competitive tuition or to register for classes, visit the summer course catalog.