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What are Microcomputer Based Laboratories (MBLs)

Initial Publication Date: December 21, 2006

A microcomputer based laboratory (MBL) is one in which a microcomputer is used to collect, store, process, and analyze data. There are a large number of data collection sensors available today that are inexpensive and also easily connect to microcomputers. Examples include measurement of force, pressure, temperature, electric voltage and current, light intensity, UVB and UVA, stream flow, dissolved oxygen, pH, etc. [see Vernier Software and Pasco Scientific for more examples]. With the appropriate sensor, sensor interface, and software a student-centered learning environment is created in which students can easily collect data to support inquiry based learning in a traditional laboratory setting or in the field.

Here's an example of an MBL activity.

Reflection and Absorption of Light

Most microcomputer sensors also connect to graphing calculators with the clear advantages of portability and low cost. This is particularly advantageous for field experiments in which equipment weight and the possibility of equipment damage are both important considerations. Because of their portability, calculators are also sometimes preferable for simple laboratory experiments in which a relatively small number of data samples are to be collected and analyzed, e.g. the measurement of light intensity for different distances from a lamp to model how solar intensity drops off with distance from the sun.