Getting Started with the Virtual Lab: A Guide for Instructors

The Virtual Lab is free to install, use, and distribute thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation. Please see our copyright page for further licensing information.

How to access the virtual lab for use in your classroom

To run the Virtual Laboratory software for yourself or your students, use any modern web browser - you can access the virtual lab here., and see a list of activities by type here.

Ways to use the Virtual Lab with your students

The Virtual lab is a fully customizable simulation of aqueous chemistry; it has been used by instructors in the following ways:

  • Compliment to physical lab
    • Pre- and Post-labs: These activities help students prepare for, or better process, lab experiences by allowing them to work with the chemical concepts without having to concentrate on lab technique.
    • Lab make-ups: These activities lead a student who has missed the in-class lab through a laboratory experiment from their computer, without the need for lab time or supervision.
  • Compliment to assigned homework
    • Open ended/Inquiry-based problems Compliment your current pencil and paper homework with activities that allow students to use chemical concepts to design and carry out their own experiments. This is the most powerful use of the virtual lab and one whose educational benefits have been well studied.
    • Homework-checking: These low-risk assignments provide a safe way to introduce the lab to your students and a way for them to feel more confident about their homework. Here students use the virtual lab to check the results of a pencil-and-paper calculation or qualitative prediction.
  • Supplement to in-class demonstration:

    In these activities, instructors first perform a demonstration in-class, so students can see the actual chemical processes. Students then explore the chemical system and processes on their own with guided activities in the Virtual Lab.

How to familiarize yourself and your students with the Virtual Lab

We have several types of documentation to help you become comfortable using the Virtual Lab. All of these are available in the help section of our site.

  • A brief video demonstrating how to use the Virtual Lab
  • A step-by-step walkthrough demonstration that provides instructions for doing a basic titration. This activity shows how to retrieve solutions from the stockroom and glassware from the menus, and demonstrates pouring and measuring techniques.
  • A basic user guide with instructions for using each feature of the lab.

Introducing the Virtual Lab to your students: If you take a few minutes during class to show your students how to pull a solution out of the stockroom, how to pour between two vessels, and where to look for information on the contents of a solution, your students will be ready to go off on their own. If you don't have an easy way to demonstrate the virtual lab to your class, you can point your students to our 5 minute introductory video, or give them a printed copy of our one page virtual lab walkthrough. (By the way, the video is perhaps the best way for you yourself to become familiar with the virtual lab).

How to access built-in homework problems in the lab

The Virtual Lab software currently includes over 50 activities and questions that cover the following concepts:

  • molarity
  • limiting reagents
  • stoichiometry
  • density
  • dilution
  • scientific method
  • pKa
  • acids and bases
  • thermochemistry
  • solubility
  • equilibrium
  • oxidation/reduction

Standard Problems:

The above page also contains links to downloadable Microsoft Word documents of the assignments, which you are welcome to distribute in your classroom. To load a specific homework activity, click on the File menu of the Virtual Lab and choose "Load Homework..." A dialog box appears with a listing of homework activities, categorized by topic. Select the homework problem you would like to load and click "OK."

Automatically Graded Problems:

The ChemCollective website contains our collection of automatically graded Virtual Lab activities. These problems randomize the chemical solutions so that no two versions of an activity will have the same answer. Students can measure the heat of a reaction, the pKa of an unknown acid, or the concentration of an unknown solution using the virtual lab and then receive hints and feedback on their results.

Additional automatically graded problems are available through the Open Learning Initiative chemistry courses (General Chemistry 1 and 2).

Customizing the Virtual Lab for your classroom

Many of the virtual lab activities on our website were created for use in specific classrooms. If you have an idea for an activity that you would like to use with your students, please contact us () and we will create it for you. In addition, if you would like to modify any of our current activities for your classroom, we would be happy to hear from you.


Please feel free to contact us at any time for questions, technical help, curriculum support, comments about the Virtual Lab, or just about education and technology in general; we'd love to hear from you.