Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

WebCam Laboratory

WebCam Laboratory

Fall 2011 Software
Ages: 8 - 16 yrs.
Price: $29.90
Platform: Windows

Don’t be put off by what appears to be a complicated program manufactured by a company in distant Budapest. Because if you’re hungry for some hands-on experimental science at your nearby computer screen, this innovative webcam-assisted program is not all that complicated. Though it’s not exactly “intuitive,” but it’s not really complicated.

From the start, installing Webcam Laboratory is simpler than the instructions are to read. You do have to enter an activation code to launch the program and you need a Webcam to get full use of the program. After all that, it’s all trial-and-error and abundantly experimental. The company pitch for this webcam-focused software is that “you do not need complicated instruments or scientific labs if you want to discover the secrets of nature and your immediate surroundings.” And, via its straight-forward, control-button interface, that proves to be the case in exploring most of Webcam Laboratory’s six features. The fundamentals are easy to learn, but each time you try another experiment, you realize how much deeper this software goes. We used the Time Lapse Cam, set at 10-second intervals, to record a windy summer storm passing through over a 20-minutes stretch. While rain on the window pane is evident and had a neat appearance, the storm’s affect on bushes and trees outside, and the change in light from growing darkness giving way to end-of-storm lightness was remarkable to witness. It’s the kind of fascinating real-life science (as opposed to E=mc2) that lures curious kids into beyond-the-classroom science.

The same goes for the Microscope Cam feature, which we used first to take close-up photos of my eye and measure the iris (about 12 mm) using Webcam Lab’s impressive onscreen measuring tools. Using a variable focus Web cam, you can magnify down to the cell structure of plants or telescope the surface of the moon—and measure parts of either. To try another application we loaded a photo of the surface of the moon and, after keying in the moon’s diameter, we could easily measure any of the moon’s craters. And with Webcam Laboratory’s Universal Logger feature, it’s easy to record all measurements you make.

Using the Kinetics features, we measured the trajectory of the weight (or bob) at the end of a basic wooden pendulum, which was a little more like a school experiment than the time-lapse cam. We liked the Motion Cam better, because it lets you record events as they happen over a period of time, such as the comings and goings of bees on a flowerbed or birds at a birdbath. And the Webcam Lab’s Pathfinder goes one step further in tracking motion by leaving a color after-image effect whose trail intensifies in color with repeated use—such as in recording street traffic out your window.

Those are among the simplest kinds of experiments. Students who want to explore nature around them in greater depth will find the program more of a serious scientific tool than a computer toy. What’s sweet about Webcam Laboratory is that it arouses curiosity about the world around you and ignites creativity in how you explore it.

Don Oldenburg   ©2011 Parents' Choice
A former feature writer and consumer columnist at The Washington Post for 22 years, Don Oldenburg is the Director of Publications and Editor of the National Italian American Foundation, in Washington, D.C. He regularly reviews books for USA Today and is the coauthor of "The Washington DC-Baltimore Dog Lovers Companion" (Avalon Travel). The proud father of three sons, he lives with his journalist-author wife, Ann Oldenburg, in McLean, VA.

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