New Albany News

Local students participating in virtual laboratory program


Six New Albany High School students will have the opportunity to exchange information and solve problems with other Ohio high school students and college graduate students in a virtual laboratory.

“I think the opportunity is incredibly exciting,” said Jon Stonebraker, the district’s technology coordinator. “The students initially have the ability to create — in a three-dimensional space — objects and systems.”

The laboratory is hosted by Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton for a program called the Virtual Reality Academy.

Rob Williams, research director of the base’s Discovery Lab and manager of the Summer at the Edge program, said the base started its Virtual Reality Academy because of the summer program’s success. During the summer program, students work on real research projects using the base’s virtual lab. By extending the lab to students outside the base, Williams said, more students can be involved.

“This is for students who are hungry for the opportunity to get some hands-on experience in technology to help them better understand the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) as a career field,” Williams said. “Other students are looking for the opportunity to strengthen their resumes and make themselves more competitive for highly selective schools.”

The New Albany students participating are sophomore Nathan Lehman and juniors Daniel Lehman, Davan Pohar, Mayank Ekbote, Lauryn Woodyard and Kaitlyn Gliha. Each student has a character, or avatar, in the virtual world. An avatar simply is a graphical representation of the user.

The students are given problems that they must solve to move forward in the academy.

Though they just began their work in December, Daniel Lehman said, they eventually will interact with other students in the virtual lab, displaying their work in real time.

Daniel Lehman said he got involved in the program because he is interested in computer science.

“It seemed to be a great way of learning how to program through a new means that can be used later on,” he said.

Ekbote said he, too, enjoys programming. The Virtual Reality Academy piqued his interest, he said, when he saw a student-created, three-dimensional program that showed how a disease progresses through a blood vessel.

Pohar said he is interested in how it can broaden his experience, especially having the chance to work alongside college students.

“Our objective is to accelerate technology innovations of importance to the Air Force and the nation while growing tomorrow’s technology leaders,” Williams said.

Williams said students who have participated in the academy can apply for the Summer at the Edge program. Those chosen for the program will be paid to complete research projects that have multiple uses. He said students could be challenged to develop computer algorithms that can detect a tumor in the body or enemy targets in the battlefield, for example.

David Herman, a technology teacher at the high school, said students can work in the virtual lab at any time, which helps them extend their learning beyond classroom boundaries.

Stonebraker said that freedom was one of the advantages of the program.

“Kids learn that school doesn’t just end at 2:30 or 3:30 in the afternoon,” he said. “Learning is lifelong: anytime, anyplace.”