How well can physiology students understand any of the human body's three-dimensional, dynamic systems when they are confined to learning about them from lectures, textbooks and flat, static pictures? At Stanford University, students can take an active and more realistic additional step: They can log on to the HHMI Virtual Laboratories and study renal physiology by manipulating the diameters of cartoon arteriolesminute branches of arteries in the kidneyto see the changes in filtration rates. Then they can simulate urinalysis on five "patients" and see how a daunting mathematical concept called the countercurrent multiplier actually affects the concentration of sodium, chloride and potassium as liquid moves through the tubules of the kidney.
The renal physiology lab, supported by an HHMI grant, is the first of five virtual labs being designed at Stanford to give large introductory physiology classes hands-on, lab-like experiences without going to a lab. Other virtual labs will focus on human gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, respiratory and neurobiological systems.
"This is more than a digital textbook," says Camillan Huang, virtual labs project manager. "It is fun, and it helps students understand difficult concepts and relate what they are learning to their everyday lives." In a preliminary comparison of student achievement, students who used the virtual lab scored higher than those who only attended lectures and read the text, Huang reports.
Jennifer Boeth Donovan
More information and demonstration labs can be found online at: summit.stanford.edu
Illustration: Summit at Stanford University
this story in Acrobat PDF format.
Reprinted from the HHMI Bulletin,
September 2001, pages 22-25.
©2001 Howard Hughes Medical Institute