JavaMOO Virtual Cells for Science Learning

JavaMOO Virtual Cells for Science Learning

Bradley Vender, Otto Borchert, Ben Dischinger, Guy Hokanson, Phillip McClean, Brian M. Slator
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-825-4.ch010
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One of the World Wide Web Instructional Committee (WWWIC) at North Dakota State University’s (NDSU) long running projects is the Virtual Cell, a desktop immersive virtual environment developed for biology education. The focus of the content in the Virtual Cell is cellular biology, and the underlying focus of the content modules is the scientific method and analytical reasoning. However, the technical challenges encountered during the course of the project include designing deployable server architectures, designing robust simulations, and developing high quality animations without losing interactivity.
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The Virtual Cell

The Virtual Cell as implemented is a client server system where the server is responsible for the persistence of the shared environments, arbitrating state changes, and facilitating communication between players. The client is responsible for constructing the appropriate view of each shared environment and for providing the user interface elements appropriate to each environment and task. In order to display the environments, the primary role of the client is to load and display the scenes which are stored on the server and that compose that environment. As a result, the client’s scene loading algorithm shapes how the client and server interact.

In the Virtual Cell, the basic element of the game is the goal. A goal represents either a single objective or a group of simple related objectives that the player is tasked to achieve, or a set of steps which the player is tasked with achieving. Also associated with each goal is a set of reference materials to explain various aspects of the activity that the player should be attempting to accomplish.

Figure 1.

Various Scenes in the Virtual Cell


Goals are grouped together into a sequence to form a module, and the module is the format presented to players and instructors. At the midpoint of the project’s current history, the Virtual Cell had three modules: (1) Organelle Identification, (2) Electron Transport Chain, and (3) Photosynthesis. The Organelle Identification module is used as an introduction to the game play and the acts of performing tests and comparing results. The Electron Transport Chain (ETC) module focuses on one part of the respiration process and traces the movement of hydrogen and electrons during the conversion of adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in the mitochondria. The Photosynthesis module similarly focuses on the movement of hydrogen and electrons in one segment of the photosynthesis reaction in the chloroplast.

The Organelle Identification module is an introduction to the game and begins with the simple task of flying around the cell to collect assay results from each organelle. The two follow-up tasks for this module are simple diagnostic tasks in which the player is asked to verify a diagnosis by collecting further results and comparing the experimental or actual results to expected values.

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