Ballston Spa

Ballston Spa High School unveils new virtual reality lab

'It takes abstract concepts and makes them more concrete'
Ballston Spa senior Izzy Rutkey, 17, demonstrates the virtual reality tour of blood cells at the new VR center.
Ballston Spa senior Izzy Rutkey, 17, demonstrates the virtual reality tour of blood cells at the new VR center.

Izzy Rutkey was inside a human body, inside a human cell. She could reach out and pick up a nucleus or vesicle — at least in the virtual reality she operated in behind a black headset.

“Right now I’m holding a ribosome,” said Rutkey, a Ballston Spa High School senior, motioning with controllers in her hands. “I vaguely remember learning about it, but I never knew what it looked like.”

Rutkey was trying out the school’s new virtual reality headset, diving inside a human cell where she could grab parts of the cell as they floated by her.

“Ooooh, the powerhouse of the cell: mitochondria,” she said.

The virtual look inside a cell, or a human brain or an animal’s digestive system helps make tangible for students lessons and concepts that can be hard to grasp.

“It allows students a way to engage with content in a way that is probably more memorable and meaningful,” said Marc Trzaskos, who teaches psychology and social studies at the high school.

Trzaskos said virtual reality technology could potentially find its way into any class or subject. A geography and history class can visit faraway places; science students can explore ecosystems around the world or observe a complicated natural process unfold in front of them; artists can build sculptures that could be converted to a physical version.

“It takes abstract concepts and makes them more concrete,” Trzasksos said.

The school’s virtual reality equipment resides in a classroom converted to the virtual reality lab opened this summer. Over the summer, GlobalFoundries, which has a major manufacturing center in Malta, donated around $3,000 worth of equipment to the school. The microchips powering the entire setup were fabricated in Malta.

“It’s important putting [these technologies] in the hands of the next generation; people my age are limited in what they think can get done,” Tom Caulfield, GlobalFoundaries vice president, told a group of students. “I wish I could start all over again, because now it’s really going to get exciting.”

The district is looking into ways to expand the virtual reality capacities beyond one headset, potentially purchasing a classroom set. In the long run, a 3-D printer could be hooked into the computer so structures built within virtual space could ultimately be printed in the physical space.

Going places

Sophomore Alexander Finkey used the virtual reality equipment to fly over a German castle and to drop into Bryce Canyon National Park. Trying the gear out for the second time Thursday, Finkey said the experience felt real.

“You can just see everything no matter what its size, to the point when you take the goggles off you almost weren’t in this room,” Finkey said.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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