How to Deliver High Quality Physical Science Labs Online: Bringing Molecular Modeling, Friction, and Stoichiometry Labs to Life

Written by SI • February 23, 2024 •  4 min read
How to Deliver High Quality Physical Science Labs Online: Bringing Molecular Modeling, Friction, and Stoichiometry Labs to Life Featured Image

We know replicating the look and feel of an on-campus Physical Science lab online is challenging. From ensuring the same level of quality and rigor to feeling limited in options when it comes to curriculum, you’re often working to bring together labs from multiple sources to meet learning outcomes and objectives. Then if you want your students to have the experience of real, hands-on scientific investigation, you’re probably spending a significant amount of time figuring out how to source materials and get lab kits to students. That doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for feedback or deep analysis — the higher impact practices that build critical thinking skills and fuel student growth.

Authentic Labs Developed Specifically for Online Physical Science Courses

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be like that anymore — and it shouldn’t! 

Student demand continues to increase for online options. Last year, institutions reported a 36% growth in fully online programs and 20% growth in hybrid programs, in the face of declining face-to-face enrollment. Meanwhile, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows more than 4% increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded in the physical sciences over the last 9 years, indicating growing popularity. So even if most of your students in this course are non-majors, there’s an opportunity to expose more students than ever to the discipline.

What’s more, students taking online science labs today are expecting a learning experience similar to that of on-campus labs. In data collected from over 1,200 students for the 2023 Annual Lab Report, 80% of students said they wanted a hands-on component in their online labs, which underscores the 74% who took online courses with only virtual simulations and said they would have felt more confident applying what they learned in their courses to real-world situations if their online labs had a hands-on component. 

What’s clear is that there is a critical opportunity to improve students’ scientific literacy and help them better understand the world around them, even if they don’t plan to pursue a degree in the sciences.

That’s why we launched our newest Quality Matters-certified discipline, Physical Science — purposefully developed for Physical Science lab courses. You can now deliver a hands-on physical science learning experience that allows your online students to see how kinematics applies to everyday, real world situations and explore the motion of points, bodies, and systems in order to calculate the velocity, acceleration, and the position of bodies in motion. They’ll also investigate the effects of chemical reactions, and study protein interactions at the atomic level — all without ever stepping foot on campus.

With the highest quality curriculum developed by PhD scientists, ready-made hands-on kits, and a lab management platform that allows you to tailor components of the curriculum, you can:

  • create an active learning environment online comparable to the on-campus experience that promotes deeper student engagement, critical thinking, and problem solving.
  • replicate real-world lab experiences online, giving students the chance to use lab-grade materials and equipment as they would in an on-campus lab facility. 
  • ensure students are ready at the start of the semester with hands-on kits designed to be cost effective and ready to ship.
  • use your time to focus on what matters most: instruction and student feedback.

We offer more than 450 labs across 13 Quality-Matters certified disciplines, so instructors can easily tailor any of the curricula to the labs they’ve already included in their course.

Hands-on kits purpose-built for Physical Science are ready to ship direct or to bookstores so you can save time and don’t have to handle sourcing, coordinating, or any other logistics — making hands-on labs easier than ever.

Putting 3 Physical Science Labs Under the Microscope 

To give you an idea of the kinds of hands-on Physical Science labs your students could be conducting, we’re highlighting three examples below of our more than 40 hands-on Physical Science labs

Molecular Modeling & Lewis Structures

In this lab, students will construct molecular models in order to better understand chemical bonding and structure.

Lab Learning Objectives

  1. Draw Lewis structures for molecules
  2. Create VSEPR models of molecules with molecular modeling kits
  3.  Identify the number of valence electrons of elements using the periodic table
  4. Diagram resonance structures
  5. Classify the VSEPR model of a molecule as: linear, bent, trigonal planar, trigonal pyramidal, tetrahedral, bipyramidal, or octahedral
  6. Assemble molecules with molecular modeling kits, preparing single bonds, double bonds, and resonance structures

The hands-on kit includes a modeling set for this lab.

Molecular Modeling and Lewis Structures virtual lab


In this lab, students explore how different weights provide varying amounts of friction and how that affects motion.

Lab Learning Objectives

  1. Measure static and kinetic friction forces
  2. Calculate coefficients of static and kinetic friction and maximum angle of repose
  3. Determine relationships between friction, surface area, and normal force

The hands-on kit for this lab includes all of the PPE and lab-grade materials that are safe for student use:

  • Digital scale, spring scale, and protractors
  • Safety goggles
  • Friction block set
  • Variety of hanging weights
  • String & weight board and wooden board
Friction virtual lab

Stoichiometry of a Precipitation Reaction

In this lab, students will determine the amount of reactant needed to create the maximum amount of product in a precipitation reaction.

Lab Learning Objectives

  1. Calculate the theoretical maximum amount of product produced in a precipitation reaction, using stoichiometry.
  2. Perform a precipitation reaction and measure the precipitate to calculate percent yield.
  3. Explain differences between theoretical and actual yield in a controlled experiment.

The hands-on kit for this lab includes all of the PPE and lab-grade materials that are safe for student use:

  • Experiment bag containing: calcium chloride dihydrate, sodium carbonate, filter paper and weight boat
  • Digital scale, glass beaker, stirring rod, funnel, and spatula
  • Gloves & safety goggles
Stoichiometry of a Precipitation Reaction Virtual Lab

“I didn’t know what to expect from an online chemistry course, but the outcomes far exceeded my expectations. It was a knowledgeable and smooth experience. I was excited to prepare my lab kit and see each week what I would be doing. I felt that I was in a lab although I was at home. Again, it far exceeded my expectations. That is why I took two chemistry courses online.”

Online chemistry student

“Safety is a core tenant for all of our labs, especially physical science where we use a variety of chemicals, heat sources, and equipment in our labs. While the vast majority of our chemicals are non-hazardous, we treat all chemicals as being potentially hazardous, the same as you would in an in-person lab. From the outset, our lessons are designed to use very small quantities of chemicals to decrease any hazards that exist in the first place.”

Ollie Yu, Ph.D., Chemistry, Science Interactive

An All-in One Solution for Online Physical Science Labs

From ensuring the same quality and rigor as on-campus lab courses to customizing curriculum to suit your instructional style, we know there are a lot of moving parts you have to think about when it comes to offering physical science labs online. 

That’s why we make delivering an authentic online lab experience easy! We have more than 450 rigorous hands-on and digital experiments to meet the needs of your course — all of which you can customize or use as-is. You can choose ready-made kits or customize a kit to meet your specific course requirements. Then, simply select the best blend of experiments to meet your course goals – while staying within budget. 

The best part of all… you have the opportunity to expand access to more students than ever. With a comprehensive approach to shifting science lab courses online — complete with curriculum aligned to Quality Matters standards, lab-grade hands-on kits, and a lab management platform to deliver your content — you can be sure you’re giving students in physical science courses the kind of online learning experience that drives better student outcomes.

Check out our Physical Science labs here.