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Virtual reality chemistry lab helps safety training

* 15 October 2002 *

Virtual reality chemistry lab helps safety training

An image from VEST-Lab

An image from VEST-Lab

Chemistry students will be learning important safety messages in a virtual reality laboratory created by a postgraduate student at the University of Sussex.

Ben Zayas, from the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences has developed the Virtual Environments for Safety Training Laboratory (VEST-Lab), which faithfully reproduces a real chemistry lab in three dimensions, allowing users to navigate their way around looking out for potential hazards and responding to emergency scenarios.

"Research shows that navigating through a virtual environment helps students to recall spatial information at a later date," says Ben. "To create the virtual environment is not difficult - the difficult part is creating the scenarios such as fire."

Virtual reality is now well established as a training tool and is used to develop problem-solving skills among professionals as diverse as airline pilots (using flight simulators), fire fighters and workers in oil refineries.

At present, new students at Sussex are given lab safety training in the form of lectures and videos but, by allowing users to interact with the virtual environment, VEST-Lab aims to offer more effective safety training.

"The benefits of chemistry lab safety training using virtual reality are obvious," says Ben's supervisor Dr Richard Cox, Reader in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence. "We believe that VEST-lab will offer a significant improvement over current safety training practice."

Ben will shortly be running a pilot trial of VEST-Lab with new chemistry students. Ben's research is supported by the Mexican Council for Science and Technology, for which he will work when he returns home to Mexico on completion of his research.

* Notes for editors *

Images from VEST-Lab are available on request.

Press Office contacts: Peter Simmons or Alison Field, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 877456, email or

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