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Crystallography VR

Learn and perform crystallography experiments in VR

Cover Image of Crystallography VR
MY ROLE
3D Interactive Design, UX Research, Animations
Team
INDividual
tools
PHOTOSHOP, UNITY, FIGMA, BLENDER
DURATION
11 months
date
NOV'19 - OCT'20
Category
EDUCATION, CHEMISTRY, VR

What is crystallography?

Crystallography is a branch of science that deals with the study of crystals and the way they are arranged in space. Crystals are solid materials in which the atoms, molecules, or ions are arranged in a regular and repeating pattern.

challenge

Why students found crystallography hard to understand through traditional theory based learning methods ? How could I make learning crystallography more simple and interactive?
Learning crystallography is difficult for students because it's very abstract and theoretical. Without a real-world example to see what the concepts mean, it can be hard to understand. Students also struggle with the fact that there are no practical experiments to give them hands-on experience with what they're learning about.

SOLUTION

A VR platform that allows learners and educators to explore crystallography in an immersive and interactive way. Crystallography VR allows users to perform experiments like X-ray diffraction (XRD), manipulate crystal elements in virtual reality, and experience the world of crystallography in ways they never thought possible.

outcome

The results showed that there were significant differences in the understanding of all the 39 participants after using the VR simulator, indicating that VR-based learning significantly outperformed traditional learning in terms of student retention.

Result metric 1Result metric 2
Result metric 3Result metric 4

PROBLEM CONTEXT

University students find crystallography boring and elusive through traditional theory based learning

Crystallography is a difficult subject to understand and comprehend. This becomes an issue when students are trying to learn its concepts, as many find it hard to grasp the theoretical elements of the subject due to lack of visualization and experiments. They need to be able to envision what's happening in order to learn effectively. However, the experiments are costly to setup for institutions thus, students don't have access to them.

Gamer sitting on a couch playing games

CORE PROBLEM

Crystallography concepts like XRD are complex to understand for students using the theory based learning

To identify and validate the core problem, I conducted a user survey with 39 participants to understand the problems with current learning methods in education.

  • 1Why it was a problem?
  • Crystallography deals with the structure and properties of crystals, which are invisible to the naked eye. This can make the subject seem abstract and theoretical. Moreover, Crystallography involves hands-on experiments and the use of specialized equipment, such as X-ray diffractometers. If students do not have access to labs and equipment, they may find it difficult to fully understand and apply the concepts.
  • 2How big was the problem?
  • At a university level, both learners and educators were facing problems to understand crystallography due to lack of an interactive way of teaching. The average grade of the crystallography subject was lowest as compared to other subjects among the current students.
  • 3What's been done about the problem?
  • Several efforts are made to crystallography easier to understand such as developing online resources and tutorials, providing hands-on experiences and demonstrations through labs, collaborating with industry and research institutions and developing new teaching methods and approaches

USERs and their REQUIREMENT

A look at our target users and their need...

3D image of a student
Student/Learner
3D image of a teacher
Teacher/Educator

Traditional learning methods were not quite efficient for elusive subjects like crystallography specially for university students since they required an immersive and interactive learning experience which allows them to learn theoretical concepts in a more hands-on way. Combined with the ability to perform experiments themselves in order to grasp their understanding of the subject matter more thoroughly.

In addition, teachers can use the system as a way of demonstrating concepts by performing experiments in front of their classes.

Exploration

To concretely identify common pain points and translate them into application features that I could present, I leaned heavily on user research through surveys.

To further investigate the problem, I conducted a user survey with 39 participants to understand the issues with current learning methods in learning crystallography.

Pain Point #1 😔

Students couldn't visualize crystal structures through 2D diagrams in books

A 2D representation of a crystal structure, such as a diagram, may not accurately depict the relationships between the atoms in the crystal and their positions in space.

Pain Point #2 😔

Student found the crystallography subject boring and elusive

Crystallography is a complex and technical subject, and it can be challenging for students to grasp the concepts and terminology.

Pain Point #3 😔

Student & Teachers didn't have access to labs since they're expensive to setup

Labs required specialized personnel, such as lab technicians, to operate and maintain the equipment, and this can be difficult and expensive to provide. In addition, students and teachers may need specialized training to use the equipment and conduct experiments safely and effectively.

Design opportunities

Key design opportunities started to arise...

Challenges and opportunities

DESIGN Opportunity #1

How can I make crystallography easy to learn by allowing students to visualize concepts?

By allowing students to visualize the shapes that different atoms and molecules make when they come together & how groups of atoms form symmetrical arrangements

Crystal Structure Visualization Lab
3D Crystal Structure Visualization

DESIGN Opportunity #2

How can I represent complicated concepts in more engaging and interesting way?

By incorporating game mechanics and animations, the VR simulator naturally leads players to how different conditions like the angle of incident of light can affect the outcome in their experiments.

Miller Indices simulation lab
Miller Indices simulation

DESIGN Opportunity #3

How can I simulate complex experiments like XRD while saving the cost of actual lab setup?

By designing a virtual lab solution which is ideal for replacing not only expensive equipment but also technician training and upkeep costs. We took data from a CaRIne crystallography to accurately represents the crystal structure values during XRD.

XRD virtual lab
Virtual XRD lab

PROTOTYPING

The entire thing was built in unity, including the shaders and materials. Textures were created in photoshop to give a more futuristic look, and exported as sprite sheets to use within unity.

Prototype in unity
3D Designing in Unity

A look behind the models and textures...

Models in blenderXRD machine in blenderElement generator in blenderTextures in photoshop
Models and textures in Blender & Photoshop

RESULTS

The results of the user interview and think aloud sessions with 39 participants currently studying crystallography showed that they prefer learning via VR method instead of traditional methods like books.

During user testing, I asked the participants about what they feel and why they feel about the VR simulator. The data collected indicated three key insights...

  • 1Users took time to understand the VR controls and interface but as testing progressed they found the navigation easy and interactive
  • 2Despite being interactive, VR caused motion sickness among students as they were not able to control the intensity of their movements.
  • 3Users got real-time feedback and guidance while performing the experiments in VR, which helped them learn more quickly and efficiently.

LEARNINGS

Overall, this design project was the longest project I worked on. But it was a success in terms of meeting the users' needs and achieving the research goals. The VR simulator I designed was well-received by the users, and it provided them with a valuable and engaging learning experience. These were the few takeaways from this projects...

#1 The importance of user research

Conducting user research was crucial for gaining a deep understanding of the needs, behaviors, and motivations of the target audience. This helped inform design decisions and ensured that the VR simulator was user-friendly and meets the users' needs.

#2 The value of collaboration

Collaborating with developers, students and stakeholders helped ensure that the VR simulator was consistent, cohesive, and aligned with the user goals. Collaboration also fostered creativity and innovation, and it helped prevent silos and misunderstandings.

#3 The importance of user testing

User testing was essential for gathering feedback from real users and for verifying that the VR simulator was usable and effective. User testing helped identify areas for improvement and provided valuable insights for future design decisions.

#4 Focus on the human problem, not the technology

I put too much dependency that technology can solve them. it makes us lose focus on what’s actually important.

iNTERESTING FACT

The concept and look of control table was inspired from one of my favourite childhood movie Krish released in 2006 where a person uses the table to see the future.

Krish movie table image
Krish movie (2006)
Table prototype inspired from the movie
XRD control table in Blender