Virtual Research Group Modules: Scalable Simulations of STEM Research

23 June 2022, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


Laboratory research experiences can be an important part of the training process for STEM professionals, but barriers exist that can prevent broad access to these opportunities. Virtual Research Group (VRG) modules, which use data curated from the scientific literature to simulate aspects of the research process, provide a scalable alternative to traditional in-lab research experiences. Here we describe the general concept of VRG modules and the implementation of a VRG module focused on block copolymers in both a high school outreach program and an undergraduate materials science course. Through qualitative and quantitative data analysis of student post-survey responses, we demonstrate that VRG modules effectively simulate many of the attributes of traditional research experiences. We also compare student experiences when VRG modules are offered in three different formats: (i) competitive in-person, (ii) competitive virtual, and (iii) collaborative virtual. Finally, we demonstrate that VRGs can be applied to topics other than block copolymers through implementation of a VRG module on bulk metallic glass.


Inquiry-based/discovery learning
Undergraduate research
Problem solving/decision making
Materials science

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information
• Methodology and supplemental tables, figures, and discussion.
Sample RHIT Handout
Sample datasheet provided to RHIT students.

Supplementary weblinks


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