Category Archives: Tabletop Exhibits

AR Sandbox Forum has moved!!

If you have built or are considering  building an AR Sandbox, you’ve probably visited our support forum here on  Since isn’t solely dedicated to the AR Sandbox, the folks at KeckCAVES, who created the sandbox, want to create a resource website that’s solely about the sandbox.  As such, we are consolidating all things AR Sandbox to one place:  The motivation for doing so is to sustain and grow the AR Sandbox community.
The growth is happening! We’ve seen a surprising number of AR Sandboxes, from all over the world. Almost every day someone lets us know about a new AR Sandbox, and we put them on the map at There are now AR Sandboxes on every continent except Antarctica. The KeckCAVES team wants to continue developing AR Sandbox software: we want to hear how groups are using them, what they learn from their experiment, and what would make the AR Sandbox project even better, so that we can expand the capabilities of the AR Sandbox through new software releases. The move of the forum will help us keep the communications going.
If you click on the sandbox forum menu link here at, you will automatically be directed to the new forum.  Your username/login should should still be valid at the new forum and all posts from last week on back can still be found at the new location.

Augmented Reality Sandboxes Around the World

The Augmented Reality Sandbox, a hands-on exhibit funded by the National Science Foundation developed by the UC Davis KeckCaves, UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center, the Lawrence Hall of Science, ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, and Audience Viewpoints Consulting opened in California at the Lawrence Hall of Science in 2014. The interactive exhibit teaches concepts relating to topography, watersheds, ecosystems, and much more using kinetic sand and innovative software technology. This exciting innovation has inspired people all over the world and continues to grow as its features are further developed.

Since its launch, the AR Sandbox has not only attracted visitors to the founding partners of the LakeViz3D project at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Tahoe Environmental Research Center, and the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, but it is also beginning to gain widespread attention by other educational institutions. This video shows the AR Sandbox being used at State University of New York at Geneseo, where the sandbox was developed by implementing the model designed by the team at UC Davis. The Sandbox has received a lot of positive feedback from those who have used or built upon it, and its use has been documented in various forms to share with and inspire others to become involved in their own sandbox adventures.

Google Map of AR Sandboxes around the globe. Click map to view.

The AR Sandbox has also influenced researchers from the Geographic Information Network of Alaska at the University of Alaska, where developers have used the original open source software developed by Oliver Kreylos to create a version of their own to demonstrate changes in the environment using the topographical visualizations. Greg Wirth, a pioneer on the Geographic Information team, has since developed four more sandboxes and has helped build six others.

Continue reading Augmented Reality Sandboxes Around the World

Middle School Students Explore Lake Tahoe’s Aquatic Food Web

What would happen if all the zooplankton were removed from Lake Tahoe?  More than fifty middle school students explored this and other compelling lake ecology questions during a food web activity at the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) in January. Working with TERC staff and Kevin Beals, a Curriculum Specialist at the Lawrence Hall of Science, students investigated the complicated interdependence of organisms in lakes.  They began by modeling scientific observations using an ‘I Wonder / I Notice / It Reminds Me Of’ framework to analyze 2D and 3D images of aquatic organisms like Daphnia and the non-native Mysis shrimp

Student visitors at TERC engage in visual inquiry of lake organisms

Then students worked together to create a model of the Lake Tahoe aquatic food web.  Starting with the lake producers (algae and plants), each pair of students reasoned out where their assigned organisms reside in the web.  The end result was, like the actual Tahoe food web, quite complex.

Kevin Beals, a Curriculum Specialist at the Lawrence Hall of Science, works with a group of middle school students to build a model of Lake Tahoe’s food web

Taking it further, the students made predictions about how the removal or addition of one organism in the ecosystem could have an enormous impact on the whole system.  Kevin presented examples of ecologic challenges that Lake Tahoe managers have faced in the past.  For instance in the 1960s, lake managers introduced Mysis shrimp to Lake Tahoe with the intention of increasing the fish population.  It turned out that the fish rarely ate the Mysis, but Mysis did eat Daphnia, a primary food source for Tahoe’s native fish population, resulting in the opposite effect as intended.  Students began to understand how even well-intentioned ecological interventions can have unexpected and sometimes negative consequences.

The students reported that they really enjoyed the Food Web activity because they were able to ‘actually do something’ and they liked thinking through the chain of cause and effect in the same way that scientists do.  For future iterations of the activity, we plan to integrate viewscopes and other 3D visualizations to further explore how 3D technology can be used to impact STEM engagement with and understanding of freshwater ecosystems.

In addition, many scientists, like this group at the University of Chicago use 3D (or higher dimension) food web models to better uncover the myriad connections between species and more accurately predict how ecosystems will respond to changes like species invasion or climate change.  Perhaps future versions of the Lake Tahoe food web activity could incorporate 3D lake food webs to test whether 3D models are more effective than 2D webs at fostering student understanding of freshwater ecology.

Augmented Reality Sandbox Images Now in NSF Multimedia Gallery

There are 19 images in the series:  each image has a detailed description for what aspect of the sandbox experience the user is viewing .   The first image can be found here:  

To view the rest of the images either click on the next image (the link to the next image can usually be found at the end of the 2nd or 3rd paragraph in the current image’s description).  Or, search for Augmented Reality Sandbox in the gallery’s search:

Testing Tabletop Models for Lakes, Algae, and Plankton

Earlier this month we had a lot of fun testing a few of our hands-on tabletop activities. On the museum floor at the Lawrence Hall of Science, 70 people, ranging from elementary school-age children to adults, got a sneak preview of these new prototype activities and gave us their feedback to make them better. One of the tabletops we tested was the Seiche Wave Model. The model is a long, narrow tank that can be divided into sections for different colored water of different temperatures. Once the divider is removed, the different temperatures of water form layers, called thermoclines, based on density due to their temperature. By blowing air through straws, visitors saw how wind can make waves on a lake surface and also create internal waves, called seiche waves. Another favorite action children really enjoyed was pouring water through a tube to simulate how streams can produce seiche waves in a lake too.

Kids also liked playing the Algae and Plankton computer games. In this game, visitors learned how to identify different types of plankton and found out what kinds of phytoplankton zooplankton like to eat. Thanks to all the participants and their feedback, we know these activities are on the right track in nurturing curiosity and raising awareness about lakes and we’ve also gained some ideas on how to improve them.

-by Min Shih and edited by Maia Werner-Avidon