Published: March 1, 2011

In the educational version of Dante’s Inferno, you’re a teacher in a classroomin Estonia, Vietnam or the United States, desperately trying — and failing miserably — to explain static electricity to bored students.

But things turn around after you log onto a science website created by CU-Boulder Nobel laureate Carl Wieman. It has dozens of computer-simulated lessons in nearly any language, including one called “John Travoltage.”

The lessons are part of CU-Boulder’s PhET Interactive Simulations Project, which received an additional $2.5 million in grants last fall from the National Science Foundation and the O’Donnell Foundation to expand middle school science outreach.

“Most young students do not have enough experience to visualize the process of physics happening,” Trish Loeblein, a physics and chemistry teacher at Evergreen High School in Evergreen, Colo., says. “The PhET simulations allow us to conduct experiments with students at the helm that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to stage or model in the classroom.”

Founded by Wieman in 2002, the project aims to engage students in science and improve their learning of underlying concepts. The free simulations are run more than 15 million times each year.

The simulations are available for free at with 50 language translations.