Lab Students Go Back to the Sandbox with Augmented Reality

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

by Katie Smith '15

This semester, Saint Joseph’s University unveiled an augmented reality sandbox, designed as an educational tool for natural science laboratory students. Based on a model designed at the University of California Davis, the sandbox models topography and storm water runoff for environmental science lab students.

“One of the challenges in studying topography is having students visualize something that is three-dimensional using only a two-dimensional map and a traditional lesson,” says Brian Forster, Ph.D., science lab coordinator for the general education program. “The sandbox brings our lessons into 3-D.”

Students recreate a topographical map in the sandbox and mimic rain events to study where water runoff occurs. The experiment can help lab students learn about areas at risk for runoff damage and the effects of pollutants in a watershed.

The technology was developed from UC Davis’ open source data by Forester, along with Jonathan Fingerut, Ph.D., professor of biology and director of environmental science and sustainability studies; Christy Violin, Ph.D., adjunct professor of environmental science; and senior biology major Franco Baccari ’18, of Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

“The sandbox gives us a physical version of the concepts we learn in class,” says Baccari. “It’s cool to see how water moves and erodes, and it shows how topography connects to real-life situations.”

See below for a video tour of the sandbox.

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