Better than reality

Published in Physics World, 1 Apr 2016

Can you learn optics better in a simulation than reality? Jon Cartwright steps into the virtual image

Optics experiments aren’t especially easy. Aside from the fact they need very careful calibration and alignment to stand a chance of working, they often rely on high-quality lenses and mirrors that don’t come cheap. And then there’s lasers, which are always a hazard.

What if physics experiments could be performed in virtual reality instead? The idea has been floated for some time in education circles, but only recently in the field of optics has it begun to find traction. According to its proponents, learning optics in virtual reality is cheaper, quicker, safer and – potentially – more imaginative. “Students can be more autonomous,” says computer scientist Martin Hachet at the Inria Bordeaux–Sud-Ouest Research Centre in France. “They don’t need a teacher all the time; they can explore by themselves. It can also be more motivating – they can try more things.” […]

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