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The Application of Virtual Reality Technology in Imitated Air Pressure Experiment for Middle School Students


Academic year: 2020

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2017 International Conference on Information, Computer and Education Engineering (ICICEE 2017) ISBN: 978-1-60595-503-2

The Application of Virtual Reality Technology

in Imitated Air Pressure Experiment for

Middle School Students

Jun-jian Tang


To help students to understand the knowledge about air pressure is one of important part of middle school physical education. Air cannot be seen directly. People designed many interesting experiments to show it. The most popular experiment is “fire rocket experiment”. The difficulty for many students is how to make the rocket fly the most distance by optimizing the launch conditions. This article designs a virtual emulator basing on 3D modeling and virtual reality technology to help students to research the optimization task. Through using the emulator, students do much more preparation for the real experiment and understand the knowledge better and get the special experience.

KEYWORD: Virtual Reality, physics student experiments


A simulated rocket, made from a plastic bottle, containing water, then pump air in it is an interesting experiment in middle school physical classes (Emma 2014). Normally, students construct bottle rockets, launch them and attempt to achieve maximum distance using a launcher that allows students to adjust the launch angle and shoot their rocket. This challenge of designing a bottle rocket and creates a several challenging problems for students to solve; finding the launch angle and the maximum amount of water. The authori designed a Virtual Reality simulation that students can use to prepare for their experiments. This simulation can also serve as a


substitute for a launching device in inclement weather. Use of the simulation occurs while students design their rockets using the simulation to optimize their operating conditions. The simulation is provided to students who can run the virtual experiment (Rodrigues 2010). Normally, students are able to launch their rockets a field on our campus which is recreated virtually in the simulation.

Virtual technologies can make students feel more motivated. Learning strategies supplemented with computer technology in a scenario-based learning environment can increase students’ learning motivation (Kerawalla 2006, Shih 2010, Soloway 1997, Lee 2012). Although student motivation is an important and even determinant factor in some cases for the completion of studies, research on virtual reality has been neglected in educational technology. The impact of virtual reality on teaching–learning processes from a motivational approach has not been studied in depth. It is necessary to analyze the motivational factor of a three-dimensional, immersive and dynamic visualization teaching–learning environment such as virtual reality (Yaman 2008, McLellan 2001). It is also necessary to know if virtual reality is easy to use for the visualization of urban environments. Usability is understood colloquially as simplicity of use. If the degree of usability of this technology is not high, the student could reject it, and this would diminish his or her motivation.


The launcher consists of a 65 cm long, 15cm diameter plastic pipe attached with a hinge to a wood base with a semicircular block that acts as a rest for the pipe. The rest is attached to a 2cm plywood base. The pipe’s angle can be adjusted by adjusting the chain attached to the “muzzle end” of the pipe and connected to a 2 x 4 at the end of the device. Adjusting the chain allows students to easily set the angle. The rocket was pumped in water and attached to a line connected to a portable air compressor that pressurizes the rocket until it is launched. Fingers made from 0.6cm aluminum bar stock, grip the end of the bottle and are held in place by 0.3cm rod bent into a u shape. Students launch the rocket by pulling a string attached to the rod.



Stock et al. (Stock 2008) established three categories of virtual environments: text-based, desktop and immersive virtual reality (VR). The interaction with the environment is via text in text-based environments. The 3D images are incorporated in a desktop VR, but in a non-immersive mode. Finally, immersive virtual environment, or immersive on-line real-time 3D environments, allows a first person practice, in which the user feels immersed while interacting with the environment through VR 3D glasses and motion sensors.

These immersive virtual environments, also called virtual worlds, are of great interest to the educational community, and researchers such Nussli (Oh 2014) claim to integrate the 3D Immersive Virtual Worlds in teaching: “The potential for this technology in a classroom setting seems limitless.”

The actual launcher has served students, teachers and visitors very well for many years. Several of these launchers were built to accommodate the needs of the various constituencies. The bottle rocket experiments have become a staple of several recruiting efforts, a freshman lab etc. Part of the fun for the students comes from the fact that there are now many more variables for them to adjust and optimize (launch angle, Ratio of water to air, payload). Ballistic flight is much more complicated than the problem of shooting vertically for height. To capture some of the fun of the actual experiment, the simulation using 3DMAX modeling. The screen design shows the various controls on the left side of the screen to simplify operation and a virtual world on the right.

The usability of virtual reality to visualize environments was also measured. Usability is defined as the measurement of the capability of product users for working efficiently in an enjoyable way (Earthy 2001). It was measured using the DGM (Data Gathering Method), described in the Review, Report and Refine Usability Methods R3UEMs (Christou 2007). The DGM is a questionnaire, a measuring tool to quantify the usability’s components. The first component is Effectiveness (accuracy and integrity). A product is effective according to the degree of accuracy for performed tasks and the accomplishments of the aims it has been designed to fulfill. The second component is Efficiency (resources assigned). A product is efficient according to the speed of the tasks performed. The third component is Satisfaction (fulfilling expectations) and is described as the user’s freedom for showing his or her agreement or disagreement with the product’s use as well as his or her attitude towards it.


visible and the simulation was easily usable (Rose 2017). After launching the rocket, the path and altitude are shown below the title in the upper portion of the screen.

A. The Simulation

The model of the rocket was kept simple. No attempt was made to correct for changes in the center of gravity due to the change in water mass.

The forces acting on the bottle rocket are: 1. Gravity

2. Drag as the rocket moves through the air, computed from the equation which is


Where = the density of air. FD = the drag force. CD = the drag coefficient 3. The thrust from the water at the discharge of the bottle

The force of wind, often an important component in reality is neglected in this model as beyond the scope of a high school problem. The drag coefficient is related to the aspect ratio of the nose cone (ratio of diameter of the base to height). This relationship is specified for several aspect ratios (Donald 2012) and was fit to the equation


Where CD = the drag coefficient r = the ratio of diameter to height

Thrust comes from water being forced out under pressure. When the amount of water in the bottle reaches 0 or the pressure in the bottle reaches 1 atm, the thrust stops. In practice, we observed anecdotally that when too much water is added to the bottle, some water may remain at the end of the flight.

The model assumes that the compressed air is an ideal gas that expands adiabatically as water is expelled from the bottle (we noted that the bottles have cooled on landing). Thus the relationship between pressure and volume is


Where P = air pressure

V = the volume of the compressed air in the bottle rocket k = the ratio of heat capacities (1.41 for air)

K = a constant for the process

K is calculated from volume of air initially present is the difference between the volume of the bottle and the volume of water added at launch and the gage pressure of the air supply. In the simulation, both variables are specified by sliders that are visible in the control panel to the left of the virtual world.



Where = the pressure difference between the air in the bottle and the surroundings (1 atm)

v = the velocity of water at the discharge

The rate of loss of water is

Where A = the cross sectional area of the 2L bottle opening.

The water discharge continues until the volume of water in the bottle is 0. When the mass of water in the rocket becomes 0, power flight is ended. The additional thrust from any remaining compressed air is ignored.

The differential equations describing position (height and horizontal location) are solved using an Euler integration for an interval of 50 msec to provide a smooth animation.

The result is a program that produces a smooth animation on most computers.


We conducted an inquiry to find the results of student’s experiment. The Cronbach alpha coefficient (Gliem 2003) is calculated in order to estimate the reliability of the questionnaires. The value obtained in the IMI questionnaire is enough to ensure its reliability (alpha values above 0.7 are sufficient to ensure reliability). Scores are above 4.0 on a scale of 7.0, except in pressure/tension. According with the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory instructions, the score of this item is the reverse of the participant’s score, thus, a low score indicates that the user has not felt pressure participating in the experiment. In this case, this means that the technology employed has not caused tension or anxiety in the participant during the development of the activity. Therefore, to compare the results of pressure/tension with the rest, according with the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory instructions, this score must be reversed, subtracting the item response from 8. The highest score is in pressure/tension, and the lower is perceived competence. Both results are satisfactory, because both are above 4 on a scale of 7.

Interest/enjoyment: the result obtained (5.57) is high: Students perceive the activity as interesting. The participants perceive virtual reality as an enjoyable technology. This is considered the self-report measure of intrinsic motivation, although the overall questionnaire is called the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory. It is the only one that assesses intrinsic motivation, per se.


Effort/importance: It measures the degree of involvement and effort that students give to their participation in the activity, since they are asked about how much they have tried to do it and how important they consider it to be. That is to say, this measure assesses how hard the activity is for the participant. The results were high in both cases (5.05 and 5.56 respectively).

Conventional assessment of student learning is not always consistent with the uses of this experiment. Assessment of the usability of the simulation, however, is both possible and necessary. This allows monitoring the use and the conditions to determine how the students use the simulation. During a semester, the simulation shown was used in conjunction with the students’ preparation for actual launches using techniques similar to those that monitor usage on commercial websites. We found that participants in the experiment ran the simulations for an average of 20 minutes. Students launched the bottle rocket an average of 22 times. 74% of the students ran a simulation in which the effects of air were removed. This indicates that the air drag button was visible and students were able, on their own, to determine that air drag might be a significant variable. Obviously, this experiment cannot be done in the real world. We could also determine that students used the simulation to optimize launch angle (Waller 2004).

Finally, an interesting point in using the simulation is that students can “move” to anywhere in the field, including standing directly underneath where the rocket lands. This can produce a special experience that many students have attempted using the simulation.


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