NSF Virtual Gaming Grant Project Overview
This project improves the learning impact of and broadens the access to engineering laboratory materials for undergraduate students. Specifically, the project develops 3D virtual replicas of common engineering laboratory experiments. The researchers built  three such replicas in this exploratory project – focusing on course material from the Strength of Materials lab common to most engineering undergraduate programs.

The virtual laboratory improves learning impact in that students have a safer means to explore the experiments and can view the experimental equipment and setup in ways that are not possible in real-world laboratories. Additionally, students are free to repeat the experiments as many times as they want without consuming additional real-world materials or laboratory time costs. Further, the virtual laboratory allows students to make mistakes safely and learn from both successful and incorrect experiments; such “learning by exploring and via negative examples” is currently not feasible in real-world laboratories due to safety and time constraints.


By creating a virtual simulation of the same testing scenarios that students witness in the laboratory, students will be given the chance to witness the experiments as they play out on the screen. The interface provides a number of benefits to students by increasing accessibility to the lab experiments (virtually unlimited); eliminating most lab testing material costs; providing more "hands on‟ experience in seeing the physical results of abstract data played out in a virtual animation; affording multiple scenarios and views of the materials tests that would otherwise be inaccessible to students in the lab as well as giving much needed unique and advanced experience to engineering students. This ensures a head start for students in the global engineering market, and makes available more financial and educational benefits and opportunities.

The objectives of this project are to use immersive 3D graphical simulations of engineering laboratory experiments to improve comprehension by enabling exploratory, user-centered learning, improve access to engineering laboratories, and reduce costs associated with actual engineering laboratories.


  1. Improved Learning

  2. Improved Access

  3. Reduction in Cost


Materials Developed

You can watch a demo video showing the simulation and what it can do for your students. (NSFProjectDemo_Steel.mp4)

Read the Quick Reference Guide for the Tension Test machine and the Quick Reference Guide for the Torsion Test machine.(Torsion_Test_Quick_Ref.pdf)

The full software user manual is also available at this link: (NSF Virtual Lab Manual)

Run the full simulation/game (through the Web Browser)


Download this ZIP file:
(Webplayer.zip), unZIP its contents to your computer, and then double-click the HTML file to run the simulation in your browser.

Further developments

In June of 2012, the researchers on this project hosted a one-day workshop co-located with the national ACEE conference in Texas.  At this conference, approximately 20 engineering professors from around the nation gathered to discuss engineering education, the strength of materials lab components, test the SoM virtual lab, and assess the quality of the SoM virtual lab developed.
We gathered qualitative and quantitative feedback as a result of this workshop, and the workshop was useful in distributing and disseminating the research that had been done on the project to date.

As a result of this workshop and the feedback we received, we improved the software in the late summer and fall of 2012 and also developed a full user manual for people who wanted to work through the virtual lab in a step-by-step manner.  The improvements made centered around real-time feedback the users receive with step-by-step instructions that 'coach' them on what to do next in the simulation.

Usability Study

In the late spring of 2013, we conducted a full usability study on the SoM virtual lab.  This research component was conducted by an external, 3rd party review team wherein the usability of the software will be assessed and a full, final report of the project has been generated. View the Usability Test Results Report at this link: 

Publications/Presentations Resulting from this Work

  • Werner, J., "Post Media Awareness and the Evolution of the Art Museum" Acoustic Space journal #12 - TECHNO-ECOLOGIES II. Paradigm shift in media arts, 2014.

  • Werner, J., "Post Media Awareness", Media Art Histories 2013: RENEW, 5th International Conference on the Histories of Media Art, Science and Technology. Riga, Latvia, October 2013.

  • Barham, W., Werner, J, Preston, J., Feng, Y., and Atkins, N., Students' Perceptions of the Effectiveness of the use of Virtual Strength of Materials Laboratory, 2013 Polytechnic Summit, Boston, MA, June, 2013.

  • Barham, W., A Game-Based Virtual Engineering Laboratory for Online Teaching, Sloan Consortium and MERLOT’s Emerging Technologies for Online Learning International Symposium, Las Vegas, 2013.

  • Barham, W., Ongoing Research Projects - Virtual Strength of Materials, ASME District Leadership Seminar, September 22, 2012.

  • Preston, J., Werner, J., and Barham, W., “Using a Virtual Gaming Environment in Strength of Materials Laboratory” poster presentation at the 119th ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, NSF Grantees Poster Session, June, 2012.

  • Barham, W., Preston, J., and Werner, J., Web-Based Virtual Strength of Materials Laboratory, Proceedings of the 2012 Polytech Summit, Marietta, GA, June 2012.

  • Barham, W., Preston, J., and Werner, J., Using a Virtual Gaming Environment in Strength of Materials Laboratory, Proceedings of the 2012 ASCE International Workshop on Computing in Civil Engineering, Clearwater, FL, June 2012.

  • Werner, J., Preston, J., and Barham, W., “Art's Autonomy in New Media Collaborations.” Virtual Extents: Practices of Research and Teaching in Contemporary Creative Arts Symposium, University College Falmouth, Cornwall England, May 24, 2012

  • Preston, J., Werner, J., and Barham, W., “Virtual Gaming Environment in Strength of Materials” poster presentation at the NSF Engineering Awardee Conference, March, 2012.

  • Preston, J., Barham, W., Werner, J., Using Digital Games to Improving Access and Learning, Proceedings of the Conference on Higher Education Pedagogy, Blacksburg, VA, February 2012.

  • Preston, J., Werner, J., and Barham, W., “Using a Virtual Gaming Environment in Strength of Materials: Increasing Access and Improving Learning Effectiveness” poster presentation at the NSF Engineering Awardee Conference, Reston, VA, March 2011.

© 2020 by James P. Werner