Keeping Science in Hand
With a variety of sensors and probes assuming a role at the center of science education, Vernier’s LabQuest 2 can not only display, tabulate and graph the readings, but analyze the results and provide instructions to students. In other words, it’s as close to a handheld lab machine as it gets.
At 1.0- by 3.5 by 6.1-inches and weighing 11.5-ounces, the gray plastic LabQuest 2 is smaller and lighter than the original LabQuest. It feels like an oversized cell phone with three prominent controls to the right of display for getting to the Home screen, going back and starting the data collection process.
The 5-inch touchscreen uses resistive technology and is bright enough for classroom work, but also has a high-contrast mode for outdoor data gathering trips. At a resolution of 800 by 480, it shows just enough detail and in most cases the screen responds well to finger touches. It has fold-out legs to give it a tilt and you can change the orientation between portrait and landscape.
Inside is an 800MHz ARM 7 processor and 236MB of memory; 200MB was available for use capturing data and adding lab instructions. It can grab and store up to 100,000 samples per second.
While the LabQuest 2 has built in sensors for sound wave forms, illumination, a three-axis accelerometer and GPS, it can also accommodate 3 analog and 2 digital plug-in probes. Vernier sells more than 70 probes for measuring everything from acceleration to power and even has spectrophotometers, a melting point rig and a gas chromatograph, whose price tags dwarf the cost of the LabQuest 2. Unfortunately, it can’t accommodate Fourier and other sensors.
Most sensors start sending data as soon as you select them from the checklist, but it takes about 15 seconds for the GPS receiver to get a location fix; it returns the coordinates to five decimals places, but lacks digital maps.
Like its predecessor, LabQuest 2 is self-contained and can collect a slew of data. Just about everything is adjustable, including axis units and sampling rate. Students can monitor the probes’ readings, view a spreadsheet of the results or get a graph of the action.
That’s just the start because the system has the ability to not only take an instantaneous tangent, integrate the area under a graph and apply basic statistics, but use sophisticated curve fitting techniques and model the data to make predictions. At any time, certain readings can be marked so that they remain but won’t be used and the data run can be saved for later analysis or incorporation into a lab write-up.
The LabQuest 2 comes with step-by-step instructions for several dozen labs built-in and there are many more available online. They are written in simple HTML format and teachers can make up and add their own for specialized labs.
On the downside, you can’t directly take a screen shot with the unit. You’ll need to configure the device to send emails and send the screen to yourself. With the included Logger Lite software, you can transfer the data to a PC or Mac computer, but the Logger Pro program adds the ability to overlay the data with an illustrative image.
The device has a slew of unexpected extras, including an audio tone generator and power amplifier, but the later needs special hardware. The system has a scientific calculator and a built-in Periodic table that has all sorts of physical details and constants, like melting point and specific heat. My favorites are the LabQuest 2’s audio recorder for saving notes and its stop watch, which is often the first thing to disappear in even the best stocked science lab.
The system has Bluetooth and WiFi as well as a micro-SD card slot for saving data. While there are USB slots for moving data to a computer and connecting a memory key, there’s no way to route what’s on LabQuest 2’s screen directly to a projector to demonstrate how to use it. You can connect it to a computer (PC or Mac) via a USB cable or a WiFi link and project that. It requires the LabQuest View 1.0 program, which costs $49, but you’ll only need one copy per room.
You can print directly from the LabQuest 2, but only if you have one of the HP printers that are supported. It worked just fine with a memory key, 2GB micro-SD card and a wired keyboard. The system has an adequate onscreen keyboard but it lacks things like a dedicated .com key for easing the typing of email addresses.
I used the system for several weeks to do everything from analyzing the motion on a swing and watching the voltage of a battery decline to monitoring the light of a sunset and taking longitude and latitude locations fixers in conjunction with sound and light readings. Its ability to grab data and analyze it is without comparison in such a small unit.
Its 300mah battery pack is enough to power it in constant use for 6 hours and 45 minutes, more than enough for a full school day of back-to-back labs. On the downside, while it’s being used the LabQuest 2’s screen heats up. It never got uncomfortably hot, but was warm in my use with three or four sensors at a time.
At $329, Vernier’s LabQuest 2 comes with a 5-year warranty, although the system’s battery is only covered for a year. A bargain, LabQuest is a modern-day science lab that fits in the palm of a hand.
+ Small and light
+ Touchscreen and stylus
+ Can accommodate 5 probes
+ Integrated analysis software
+ 5 built-in sensors
+ Lab videos and extras
- Gets warm