Department Expands Hands-On Learning at the Geoscience Learning Center

Augmented Reality Sandbox and River Geomorphology Added

The Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences has installed two hands-on demos in the Geoscience Learning Center in Fleming Room 136. You may now try out our augmented reality sandbox (ARS) as well as a river geomorphology simulator.

Augmented Reality SandboxUH logo and state of Texas created in the Augmented Reality Sandbox. (Photo Credit: Ryan Jeffcoat)Funds for both of these were provided by Provost Paula Myrick Short and College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Dean Dan Wells as part of a larger effort to improve student interaction and learning in the EAS department.

The ARS is a device that will help students understand spatial reasoning and the relationship between 2D maps and 3D topography. This valuable tool can be used at all levels of geology. The ARS concept was originally developed by a team at the University of California, Davis.

A 3D camera detects the “elevation” of sand in the box down to sub-cm level, and computer software creates a topographic map that is then projected onto the sand surface. As a user moves sand around the box, the projected topographic map changes instantaneously. Additionally, the software allows users to “make it rain” on the map and observe fluvial processes. In the future, students will also be able to simulate lava flows.

EAS teaching assistant Erik Slotsve designed and constructed the ARS with assistance from Instructional Assistant Professor, Daniel Hauptvogel. The ARS is already being used by Physical Geology lab students to learn about topographic maps and spatial thinking. Also, Field Methods students recreated an area from their recent field trip to the Big Bend region.

To further experiential learning, the department also installed a river model (Emriver Em2 developed by Little River Research & Design). This river simulation allows students to observe fluvial processes such as erosion, deposition, stream meandering, channel incision, cut bank failure, and more. Both undergraduates and graduate students have a new appreciation for the power of water.

The Geoscience Learning Center is open to all students, faculty and staff of the University of Houston.