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WRITER: Amy Muise Smith, 575-646-1073, smiamy@nmsu.edu

Even when a school has no physical lab space, students can still learn standard lab techniques with Virtual Labs. The Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University has released mobile versions of their popular Virtual Labs interactive series, available now for iPad.

Eight modules let students explore laboratory techniques and concepts important in many scientific disciplines, including food science, without the need for a physical laboratory. Each module functions as an electronic lab manual and/or an overview publication to help high school and college students better understand eight basic laboratory concepts.

Because food is important to each one of us, it can serve as a good subject for teaching science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts. The Virtual Labs incorporate real life experiences with food into virtual labs that replicate hands-on laboratory procedures. Not only do students learn STEM concepts, they increase their awareness of food and agriculture issues, which could lead to interesting careers.

Interactivity was the number one priority when creating the modules, and the mobile versions are even more immersive than the previous web versions, thanks to touchscreen functionality.

Students can turn the focus dials on a microscope, use droppers and pipettes to sample bacteria, light Bunsen burners, look at corn under UV light, calibrate a pH meter, and much more. After experiencing the Virtual Labs, moving over to a physical lab will feel seamless for students because they're already familiar with pertinent equipment and the steps of common laboratory procedures.

These apps were created with high school and college educators in mind, and each module includes a curriculum package, available via myfoodsciencelab.com. During initial testing of the Virtual Labs series, teachers participating in food safety education workshops rated the series on average 4.5 out of 5 on factors such as "engaging for students" and "useful in the classroom."

The original, web-based versions of Virtual Labs have been played over 1 million times on popular sites such as BrainPOP's GameUp. The series was developed by NMSU's Media Productions department in collaboration with South Dakota State University and North Dakota State University, with funding from USDA NIFA. The new iPad versions of the modules are available at the Apple App Store for $0.99-$1.99, or as a bundle of eight for $4.99.

The apps include:

Bacteria Sampling
Why do we pasteurize milk? Virtually inspect a dairy processing facility and engage in microbiology concepts that are used by food and dairy scientists.

Gram Staining
Test a yogurt sample for bacterial contamination using the classic Gram staining technique.

Using the Microscope
Set up a microscope slide to check out what type of bacteria is contaminating a yogurt sample.

Testing for Corn Mold
There's mold in this corn - is it safe to eat? Virtually experience how farmers and food processors inspect corn for a mold that can produce a dangerous toxin.

The pH Scale & Meter Calibration
Explore the pH scale and learn to calibrate a pH meter.

Testing and Adjusting pH
Virtually experience the research and development of a delicious, safe salsa.

Understanding Water Activity
Why does dry food last longer? See how water acts inside food and how this affects spoilage.

Controlling Water Activity in Food
Understand how people traditionally kept food safe. Test the water activity of sun-dried corn.

The Learning Games Lab is a non-profit development studio at New Mexico State University and is part of the Cooperative Extension Service. Working with content experts to determine the right design and approach for the right audience, developers at the lab translate research-based ideas and concepts into digital tools, games and apps.

Audiences include adult learners, children, youth, college students, and the agricultural community. The Learning Games Lab also conducts research on game-based learning. For a full list of their educational apps, web resources, and other materials, visit learninggameslab.org.

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