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Clark's students undertake genetic experiments in greenhouses she built in SciLands and tour a human cell she constructed that's the size of an in-game house. She notes that while she has yet to thoroughly assess the medium, students have seemed to do better on her virtual labs than her real ones.

Sure, acknowledges Doherty, the open-endedness of Second Life and the anonymity of avatars allow escorts to pop in unexpectedly and even allows folks to strip naked and get it on in the middle of respectable SciLands institutions — as happened once at Exploratorium Island — but that just makes the learning experience more realistic.

Corbin, far away from his computer screen, eyes the colossal plesiosaur skeleton and astronaut mock-up above him with skepticism. He's never been that impressed with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science — there are just too many static stuffed animals and staid mummy displays, and not enough buttons to push or levers to pull. In other words, it ain't no Colorado Science Center. When he walks by dioramas of Colorado wildlife, he grumbles, "If you want to do better, go to the zoo."

Jeff Corbin put the University of Denver on the Second Life map
Tony Gallagher
Jeff Corbin put the University of Denver on the Second Life map
Corbin's avatar, zazen Manbi, in black.
Corbin's avatar, zazen Manbi, in black.

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For a short history of nuclear power in Colorado, read the Latest Word blog at westword.com/news.

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He perks up a bit when he wanders into the newer, more interactive space wing. "This is kind of hands-on," he notes of a water table covered in red sand where visitors can re-create the river channels and deltas on Mars — though he already wants to know just how far he can take the demonstration: "As a kid, I would have wanted to build a dam and try to build a lake." When a boy comes up and starts pushing the wet sand this way and that, Corbin grins. "Yeah, he's doing it right."

One day the Science School might have exhibits like this — though Corbin is in no rush to build them himself. "I got burned out," he says of his fifteen-hour days in SciLands. One impetus for this may have been when he lost his desk job at a hydrology company — not long after he started logging into Second Life at work. Now Corbin, who still does freelance jobs for energy companies when he's not working at DU, rations his time, leaving most of the construction to professionals like Aimee Weber.

"I've gotten over it," he says. "It's not invading my dreams anymore."

That's not to say he's done with Second Life — far from it. He and Amme have big plans for SciLands. Maybe they'll make an underground uranium mine to go along with the reactor. Or a working Jules Verne time machine, or a submarine that travels through the human body à la Fantastic Voyage. Corbin would love to develop a Science School curriculum to be used in struggling rural classrooms "where gym teachers teach science."

And then there's his big dream: To reopen the Colorado Science Center — not in SciLands, but in the old-fashioned world. "In my mind, nothing replaces the real thing," he admits. Just take this water table, he adds: "I suppose someone could simulate this in Second Life, but it wouldn't be the same. You couldn't get your hands dirty."

For a short history of nuclear power in Colorado, read the Latest Word blog at westword.com/news. Contact the author at joel.warner@westword.com.

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