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Microlab ExAO: to visualize science

Professor Nonnon of the University of Montreal has designed a computerized microlaboratory that allows the results of an experiment to be quickly visualized, thus making science and mathematics more concrete for students.

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Mathematics and science in general open the doors to multiple careers. However, these disciplines often remain abstract and difficult to understand for the pupils who risk missing out on certain possibilities. To counter this, Pierre Nonnon, full professor in the didactics department of the Faculty of Education at the University of Montreal, had the idea of designing the Microlab ExAO.

What does the Microlab ExAO mean? This is the design and development of a computerized microlaboratory learning environment with computer-assisted experiments (ExAO).

More simply, it is a device, a microcontroller to which are connected various sensors detecting various variables such as speed, temperature or even brightness. The microcontroller is itself connected to a computer. In an experiment, information is sent from the sensors to the microcontroller, which then transmits it to the computer. The information received is then illustrated directly on the screen in the form of graphics. This system has the advantage of quickly making the results of an experiment more concrete at a glance.

Visualize the invisible

Here is an example. Have your students ever asked you this type of question: why do we have the impression in winter that the night is brighter than in November when everything is dark? To demonstrate the absorption of light by snow, physical principles apply. Here's how you might explain it if your classroom was equipped with a Microlab.

Initially, it would be a question of measuring, with a source of heat, the temperature of the asphalt and the snow. For the purpose of the experiment, these would be replaced by a white square and a black square under which thermometers would be placed. On the screen, thanks to the ExAO software, the students would see in real time, after exposure to the light of the two boxes, under the same conditions, which absorbs heat or not. Why? Because each box would be equipped with a sensor. On the screen, simultaneously, the pupils would notice that the heat of the black card progresses, whereas it will be more stable for the white.

After France, Quebec?

For Mr. Nonnon, the Microlab is not just a simple university project. He sees very real applications in elementary and secondary classrooms. It is also already in the process of establishing its system in Morocco. “We developed it in France. It is present in all high schools and colleges (secondary), ”he says. The Microlab is also relevant for students at the professional level. In all cases, it makes it possible to “visualize the interactions of the variables presented at the same time on the computer screen in graphic form. "

Professor Nonnon in her welding lab.

Obviously, Professor Nonnon's goal is to equip Quebec schools (and elsewhere too) by providing them free of charge Gerber plans and files that allow you to assemble their own Microlab. He made the proposal to the Ministry of Education. According to him, a school could equip itself with a Microlab ExAO for around 100 $.

"With this project, we want to promote, he specifies, a sustained practice of experimental sciences, by offering a real laboratory environment as opposed to simulations." It is computerized and portable, accessible to all, in front of any computer (Windows). "

Applications in several courses

Until now, he has designed some 250 microcontrollers and 600 sensors checking nearly ten variables such as pressure, distance or even the optical range. According to Mr. Nonnon, in addition to physics lessons, its creation can also be used in biology lessons thanks to sensors analyzing oxygen, luminosity or pressure; chemistry lessons by measuring pH and conduction; and finally, technology by allowing students to build their own sensors.

In these virtual classroom times, the teaching tool could even be brought home by the students to continue their experiments. Professor Nonnon agrees to be contacted by those who would like to know more about the Microlab ExAO.

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About the Author

André Magny
André Magny
For more than 30 years, André Magny has been going back and forth between journalism and teaching French to teenagers and adults alike. Freelance freelance writer for various media including Francopresse, he was also a cultural journalist at Law in Ottawa and in charge of new technologies at Soleil de Québec. He also did sports journalism in France. He has a weakness for the Francophonie, culture, sports, cuisine and politics.

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