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Technology: District samples virtual reality for science classes

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Isabelle Christen turned the eyeball slowly left and right. With a flick of the wrist, she looked at the muscle and optic nerve still attached at the back. Then she began to pick it apart: cornea, iris and pupil.

The Waccamaw High junior is no stranger to the eye. She did an internship at an office that performs laser surgery. She’s also shadowed an anesthesiologist and made it into surgery. “You could only see so much,” she said.

The eyeball was different. “It was really cool, actually,” Christen said.

So real, you could forget it was only virtual. It was rendered in three dimensions by a computer and software created by zSpace, a Silicon Valley firm that specializes in virtual reality programs for education. A demonstration at Waccamaw High last week allowed students and staff to dissect plants and animals, explore the human body or tear down an engine.

Superintendent Randy Dozier had seen it before and was impressed. He wanted to gauge the reaction. “It isn’t cheap,” he said. A set 10 computers along with teacher training would cost $50,000, said Brent Tiller, president of Pinnacle Network Solutions in Florence, which sells the zSpace systems.

Dozier said he is considering a plan to lease the computers or create a mobile lab for the district with less of the VR machines.

“This is fun. This is great,” said Sharon Bray, who teaches physics and biology. “How do they learn the math that goes with it?”

Sam Lucchese, the director of sales for zSpace in North Carolina, handed her a pair of VR glasses and a stylus. The glasses orient the images on the screen to the user’s head position. The stylus controls the image through pointing and clicking. He took Bray through a lesson in Newton’s first law of motion.

At each step in an experiment created in virtual zero gravity, a pull down window showed the math formula that applied. Change the variables with the stylus and the values in the formula change. Click the “Play” button and the experiment runs.

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