Stuff just got real for students in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, where a new virtual reality laboratory offering three-dimensional visualization of math concepts and computer science object models now provides them with a unique tool for their assignments and projects.

Geoff Goehle, associate professor in the department, said the Mathematics and Computer Science Virtual Reality Laboratory uses the state-of-the-art HTC Vive virtual reality system. “The system’s headset has two screens, one per eye, which allows the user to see and interact with a three-dimensional environment,” Goehle said. “The entire device uses more than 70 sensors including a MEMS gyroscope, accelerometer and laser position sensors to track users’ motion as they move around a predefined area within that environment.”

Goehle, associate professor Erin McNelis and others are using the VR system to create and deliver lessons that will allow students to see and interact with three dimensional mathematical structures such as solids of revolution or 3-D surfaces. “These objects can typically only be represented in two dimensions,” Goehle said. “With the VR Lab, students will be able to experience them as if they were true 3-D objects.”

Others teaching in the department are using the VR system to model and create visualizations for computer science concepts such as the runtime stack, the heap and objects. “The goal is to create a visual syntax for how these concepts interact with one another and to research its potential impact on computer science education,” Goehle said.

Goehle has compared the new system with others that are currently available, and says that the speed of tracking users’ movements and matching the virtual environment to them with very little lag gives it an advantage. “So far, nobody who’s used ours has felt nauseated,” he said.

Photo Caption: Students Daniel Powell (seated) and Anthony Benavente (standing) test out new virtual reality equipment.