Immersive Labs, Virtual Designs Guiding Drury Chemistry, Architecture Students

Jun 27, 2017

I am being transported into another world through the use of a head mounted display (HMD), moving about a computer-generated building created by a second-year architecture student. David Beach, assistant professor of architecture at Drury University, explains this is just one of the many innovative techniques used as part of a program where students can virtually navigate their own designs.

“There’s sort of a paradigm shift that’s happening in architecture both in education and practice right now.  And a lot of that shift can be summed up in what we would refer to as ‘capture, design, create,’” shares Beach.

Using the VR program, students can see their designs from a three dimensional perspective. It allows them to identify possible layout problems before construction could take place.  This has real implications in the architecture world, says Beach.

“The other thing that’ happening right now that’s also equally innovative and exciting is this idea of taking digital objects and making them analog or physical objects— and that’s on the back end of this idea of ‘capture, design, create’,” says Beach. 

Students can also build physical representations of these designs using a 3D printer. It’s not just about making a model to represent a student’s design, Beach says, but about achieving a broader understanding of how these practices are shaping the construction industry.  He explains 3D printing is already being used for actual building construction in some countries, and learning how to apply it on a small scale gets the student familiar with the process.

3D printer students use to make physical creations from virtual designs.
Credit Theresa Bettmann / KSMU

“So they come into our program thinking about being a prototypical architect.  But when they leave our program here - if we’ve applied the right innovation, if we’ve given the right critical thinking skills - they’re seeing that funneled the opposite way.  That the world is full of potential opportunities and career paths for them,” Beach shares.

Beach adds that Drury’s architecture school is purposefully designed for collaboration.

“Because if you notice these are our main studios - there are no walls.  Typically our first year students are here, our third and fourth year students here…so every day they come up the stairs and pass our first year students.  So there’s this sort of immediate collaboration,” shares Beach.

Innovation and collaboration can be found in many departments around campus.

“So from macro sized construction to molecular construction that’s what we are shifting to right now…” (Madhuri says when speaking of architecture to biochemistry.)

That’s Dr. Madhuri Manpadi, assistant professor of chemistry at Drury University.  Manpadi uses guided labs to immerse her students in the subject of biochemistry. 

Her guided labs encourage students to engage in the learning process. Instead of simply memorizing, testing and following instructions, students are able to propose an idea.

“I like to give them a big project. So first we start by discussing the reaction they are going to do and the goal is to make new molecules or already known molecules that can potentially have anti-cancer, anti-bacterial property,” Madhuri says.

Manpadi says she wants to provide the right tools so that students can come to their own conclusions. They’ll often become immersed in the process.  Students not only learn the technical skills, explains Manpadi, but also how to collaborate, use critical thinking, and become leaders.

“I feel like they don’t forget.  It’s not like ‘oh I have to be there for three hours, I did something.’ No, it’s like an exercise where you are trying to teach yourself which is what we want our future generation to be,” explains Madhuri.

The upper level research credits have “exploded,” explains Manpadi, as students typically stay beyond the required number, returning the following semester to continue work on their developing projects. 

For many students, they hope to publish their work in scientific journals.

Dhruv Sitapara, Jeremy Ryan, Dr. Manpadi and Lena Hamacker
Credit Theresa Bettmann / KSMU

“ Even in the beginning of my undergraduate career I didn’t’ really think I wanted to do research—but I had not done a whole lot of it before—so until I really did it, don’t say ‘it’s not for you’ until you’ve really done it,” Ryan explains.

“I didn’t really know that I’d come to like research this much.  One of two things could happen--either you’d love it, or you wouldn’t—and in either case you’d know what to do with your life,” Sitapara says.

“This is a good opportunity for students to not only gain valuable skills for future research but also to contribute to the field of cytotoxic natural chemicals.  It’s pretty hard to study that at a university so I started research so I get a good foundation,” Hamacker says

That was Jeremy Ryan, a recent graduate, followed by senior Dhruv Sitapara and junior Lena Hamaker.  Each is in Springfield this summer exploring the effects of natural plant extracts and the ability to affect anti-cancer properties. 

Ryan started his college career focused on pre-med, but switched to research after developing a passion for the field. Sitapara plans to enter medical school and he was able to present some of his past research findings at a national conference last year.  Hamacker says she is working toward an internship with Cancer Research of the Ozarks. 

The old days of lecture, note taking and testing simply don’t cut it, says Beth Harville, dean of natural and mathematical sciences at Drury.

“There’s lots of information out about how the brain functions and how the brain learns, and how we can help students better learn and apply information,” Harville says.

Innovation comes in many forms, she says, and teachings are developed around how students learn and applied in numerous ways around campus.  One common denominator seems to be that no matter what the subject, making students an active part of the process seems to forge lasting connections.