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Science LinX: the NeXt Level in Augmenting Science Center Xperiences

Ingeborg Veldman, Tanja van der Woude and Bart van de Laar, University of Groningen, the Netherlands


Science LinX uses Augmented Reality (AR) in order to communicate and visualize complex science – from nanotechnology to research on black holes – in an informal way for secondary school pupils. With the exhibit 'MIGHT-y' it's possible to connect varying scientists with their 3D research objects in order to 'MATCH' and score your personal 'meet and greet' with the scientist, scaled down to only 4 inches, just at your fingertips on your desktop. Flexible programming makes updating with current research findings possible, and varied possibilities for setup of the new exhibits make it possible to connect not only to High Techs, but also to Non Techs.

Keywords: Augmented Reality (AR), science communication, nanotechnology, secondary school pupils, exhibit user experience

1. Attracting Young People to Science and Technology

The University of Groningen (RUG) is a research university in the top segment of European academic research. It offers degree programs at Bachelor's, Master's and PhD levels in a wide range of disciplines to over 28.000 undergraduate and graduate students and 1500 PhD-students.

The Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (FMNS) is home to a range of research institutes covering almost all fields in life and natural sciences. The faculty's Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials is one of the leading materials research institutes in the world: in 2010 it came ninth in the ranking of material science research groups by the Times Higher Education journal. At the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials, physicists, chemists and biologists collaborate on research into new materials involving nanotechnological methods and instruments. The FMNS offers degree programs in natural sciences, life sciences and computing & cognition. Currently the faculty has about 3,000 students, almost 600 PhD-students, and 1,400 staff members. In the area of science and technology, its science student intake ranks fourth among the Dutch universities, with a market share of 8.4%.

In recognizing its societal role as a research university and in facing an (inter)national decline in science student numbers, the University of Groningen developed a successful education and outreach program to attract young people to science and technology (STEM) – an important goal in the Netherlands in order to keep supporting today's knowledge-driven society (Platform Bèta Techniek, 2010).

The FMNS developed a broad-based Bachelor's program covering the entire area of the transition from secondary school to university and embraced the idea of a chain approach with secondary schools and employers in the region as a principle for its outreach and communication policy.

Since 2000, the student intake into science and technology programs has nearly doubled to almost 800 first-year students in 2010. Science and technology programs are now taken by just under one in five RUG students, mainly in the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. There were major leaps in intake in 2003 and in 2006, especially in the inter-faculty Industrial Engineering and Management program as well as in the Life Science and Technology program. Other programs, such as Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Science, still have growth potential.

LinX to Risky Target Group

Science LinX, the faculty's small-scale science center, plays a pivotal role in the outreach policy, linking formal to informal learning. Together with an online platform (, Science LinX uses blended learning methods to make the invisible visible in the cutting-edge science of the faculty: hands-on exhibit experiences, expos, in-depth workshops, speed dates with scientists, science café's fusing with 'virtual' serious games, and simulations. The Science LinX challenge is to translate a seemingly growing but superficial interest in science and technology among the lay audience into deep involvement in research and student education.

Science LinX addresses the primary target group, usually considered as 'risky', 'difficult' or 'hard to get', 14- to 17-year-old teens, identified using the Dutch BètaMentality Model (Platform Bèta Techniek, 2010). This model maps the drives of young people in their motivation to choose STEM careers.

The BètaMentality Model distinguishes five dimensions that can be regarded as characteristics that young people possess to a varying degree: negative outlook and future outlook, focus on people and society, practical mindset, interest in technology, and focus on status. Each of the BètaMentality segments or 'types' has a unique mix of these five characteristics. In a survey, over 2000 respondents were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a number of statements. Within the five dimensions, the young people were subdivided into four segments in such a way that maximized the similarities within the segments and the differences between them. With respect to the five dimensions, the young people within the segments have highly similar profiles – i.e. they generally think the same and have a similar view of what a future in the world of science and technology would mean. This analysis led to the following distribution over the four segments (the percentages indicate the size of the segment relative to Dutch youth):

Fig 1: BètaMentality segmentsFig 1: BètaMentality segments

Science LinX addresses each one with tailor made programs, for example:

  • High Techs: building, experimenting and further developing robots in FabLab
  • Career Techs: workshops given by professionals from companies like Philips on robotics and programming, speed date sessions for pupils with professionals.
  • Socially-Minded Generalists: science cafés, debates, and special master classes on, for example, sustainable energy or drug targeting.
  • Non Techs: 'surprise acts' like guest appearances of a local artist Theo Jansen who builds skeletons made of electric-conduits which walk on wind power, introducing biomedical engineering with pupils.

And although each and every person is unquestionably unique, both as individuals and as members of the group, the groups themselves demonstrate a remarkably homogenous composition in terms of ambitions and openness towards STEM in general. But we do need more to connect to this risky target group.

Connecting to Digital Natives

The 'risky target group' as a whole can't be triggered without using emerging technologies; after all, they are the so-called 'Digital Natives' often referred to as the 'Net-generation' or 'Generation-Z': with preference for tweets and sound bites, low attention span, but also second-nature talent for problem solving and collaborating, seemingly controlling the world at their fingertips (Ito, 2010).

So just as trends in museums and science centers show, Science LinX also combines emerging technologies to address the learning styles of this generation of secondary school pupils. Exploration of educational innovations is strongly needed to inspire future STEM students and professionals.

Web technologies offer new ways to engage and involve teenagers in science, especially Web 2.0 technology and other forms of two-way communication. User-generated content comes highly rated in the yearly scientific contest for the best research on involving secondary school pupils.

In spring 2009, Science LinX was asked to develop a project to communicate risks and possibilities of nanotechnology to pupils. At the same time, this project produced a quest and discovery of major possibilities of AR to connect not only to teenagers, but also to broader audiences at Arts & Science festivals.

Nanopodium and Nano LinX

Anticipating the expected major influence of nanotechnology on our everyday life, the Dutch government initiated the independent Committee for the Societal Dialogue on Nanotechnology in the Netherlands (CMDN). The Committee in turn founded the Nanopodium, a platform for exchanging thoughts, ideas, opinions and best practices on (the impact of) nanotechnology. The aim is to stimulate a public dialogue about the opportunities and threats of nanotechnology and resulting applications with regard to individuals and society as a whole.

The results of the societal dialogue – starting in December 2009 and lasting one year – were evaluated by the end of 2010 and will lead to an agenda for nanotechnology, which will be presented to the Dutch government.

As one of the participants of Nanopodium, Science LinX organized a program especially for secondary school pupils and called it 'Nano LinX'. At the same time for the benefit of the Nanopodium platform, Science LinX set up a master class and symposium to stimulate public dialogue about the opportunities and threats of nanotechnology and resulting applications with regard to individuals and society as a whole.

Simultaneously the Nano LinX project gave us the opportunity to realize an earlier developed concept design for an interactive exhibit on the so-called 'Powers of Ten', based on the 1968 American documentary short film by Charles and Ray Eames (, exploring the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten. For the Science LinX exhibit, two students of the Education and Communication Master Program selected the medium AR to give a new dimension of immersion to this concept. In Nano LinX their original plan evolved into the permanent and mobile exhibit 'MIGHT-y' ('MACHT-tig' in Dutch).

The evolution of MIGHT-y

The goal of the exhibit 'MIGHT-y ' is to visualize the different length scales on which you can do life science and natural science research, with an accent on the nano scale. Pupils encounter on the spectrum of the 40 length scales (1024 (100 million light-years) – 10-15 (1 femtometer) as many as thirteen examples of research departments of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. In this way we present a cross section of research areas, giving more insight into the broad range of career options pupils have within our faculty.

In the original concept for the exhibit, multiple players wearing AR glasses could play around with cards provided with markers on the left area of the exhibit. Each marker represented one of the 40 length scales by showing a 3D research object like a nanomotor, virus, neuron, robot or galaxy. By combining two or three cards in a range corresponding to the logical follow-up of length scales, the relative scale of the chosen objects would be visualized in order to bring about a sense of relative scale.

On the right side of the exhibit there would be a placeholder for one or two cards at the same time. Recognizing one card would lead to an added digital layer of content on the specific object with background written information, supplemented with graphics and short movie clips. Recognizing two cards would show clues on both length scales and relative scale in order to give the players more grip on how to arrange cards with markers on the left side of the exhibit.

Rapid prototyping of the original concept showed the complexity of visualizing the relative scale differences between a maximum of two or three objects in a range. Although players could see the single objects by dragging each card to a specific placeholder, showing relative scale as a feedback event led to visual confusion. Having the object in the middle of the range still the same size, the smallest object getting smaller and smaller, and the biggest object getting bigger and bigger, led to the disappearance of the latter two objects. Also, it became clear that reading with AR glasses led to dizziness.

So the only conclusion at that stage was to figure out a way of interaction that still would be challenging, but also more playful without losing sight of the content. Julian Oliver's spatial memory game 'levelHead' ( just seemed perfect to do the job. Julian Oliver, a New Zealand born artist, free software developer, teacher and writer, has exhibited his electronic artworks in many museums, festivals and galleries throughout Europe, The Americas and the South Pacific since beginning his career in 1996. His 'levelHead' became a spatial memory game from femtometer to light-years in the context of our Nano LinX project.

Game play

Players of the MIGHT-y exhibit encounter two pairs of AR glasses and two cubes with markers on the desk. After reading the instructions and hearing instruction from the explainer, it's clear that each player has to wear a pair of AR glasses and hold one of the two cubes. It's also clear they should start with the cube interaction.

Fig 2: Two player mode as defaultFig 2: Two player mode as default

Player 1 explores cube 1 in which a white virtual man can be navigated by slowly tilting the cube in different directions over stairs, through doors, to other rooms. Each room is provided with graphical clues to the related length scale. Simultaneously, player 2 explores cube 2 in which he'll find thirteen different 3D research objects corresponding to a cross section of research areas on thirteen different length scales. Flexible programming makes it possible to put even more objects into the cube with only 6 sides. A total of 40 objects corresponding to the 40 length scales wouldn't be problematic at all.

Both players have to collaborate in order to make a perfect 'MATCH': combining, for example, the side of cube 1, which shows the white virtual man in the nanomotor room of 10-9, with the side of cube 2, which shows the 3D nanomotor object, makes a 'MATCH'. As a response to this 'mix and match' principle, the white man from within cube 1 is 'beamed up' to one of the beams or towers of the exhibit with an even more lively animated version of his 3D research object, about which he tells his passionate research story. The players learn in this 'nanomotor' casus from Dr. Wesley R. Browne (group leader Synthetic Organic Chemistry of the Stratingh Institute for Chemistry) more about the molecular scale, the way lightning fuels the motor, and the possibilities of combining a great number of these nanomotors to change the properties of materials.

Fig 3: After a 'MATCH' researchers come aliveFig 3: After a 'MATCH' researchers come alive

After a 'MATCH' and meeting with the only 4 inch representation of Dr. Wesley R. Browne, it's easy for player 1 with cube 1 to navigate the virtual white man to an adjacent room. The room with the representation of the smaller object 10-14 (not all of the 40 length scales are covered with content at the moment) will lead to meeting Dr. Maaijke Mevius whose research focuses on cosmic radiance. The room with the representation of the bigger object 10-8 will lead to meeting PhD student Jan Willem de Vries, who presents groundbreaking research on drug targeting. A challenging and funny way of informal 'zapping' is constructed in this way. The player is in control of which kind of research he wants to learn more about and which researcher he wants to meet virtually.

2. Added Reality and level of immersion

AR is a technology which adds an extra layer of computer-generated or synthetic information (visuals or sound) on top of the real world, in real time. It allows the user to see the real world, with virtual objects superimposed upon or composited with the real world. Therefore, AR supplements reality, rather than completely replacing it (Azuma, 1997).

While the capability to deliver augmented reality experiences has been around for decades, it is only very recently that those experiences have become easy and portable. AR is becoming an emerging edutainment platform in museums and science centers (Bimber, 2005). Combining AR with nanotechnological content has been done before in an AR nanomanipulator for students to learn nanophysics (Marliere, 2008), but this still is an exclusive combination.

In the MIGHT-y exhibit we use the more traditional 'marker'-technique. Markers with black and white patterns from a specific library are put on each side of the two cubes and on each of the towers of the exhibit. The markers are used to calculate the positioning of the virtual layers of information and digital objects.

The more sophisticated part of experiencing the extraordinary level of immersion in this game is the use of the AR glasses. Due to problems of availability of the WRAP 920AR glasses from VUZIX, we opted for setup with VR920 Video Eyewear with CamAR for both players of the game. It gives the players the mixed reality (reality with an extra layer of content on the ' Powers of Ten' ) which is visible for their eyes only, giving teenagers a special exclusive feeling, and making playing the game more fun. This binds the two players together even more through the extra companionship in their quest.

The VR920 can handle resolutions including 640x480, 800x600 and 1024x768; the video captured by the CamAR (resolution 640x480) is interpolated to fit into the larger resolution of the Eyewear screen. So setting both up at 640x480 is the best fit. Further ingredients for hardware setup are two computers, Intel Core 2 Quad CPU Q8400 2.66 GHz processor, 2GB DDR3 memory, 160 GB hard disk capacity, Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT graphics card and Windows 7 operating system. The software is based on Julian Oliver's 'levelHead', which you can download and compile for yourself (

Julian Oliver warns brave souls: "levelHead source code and assets are available for those brave enough to try compiling it."

Cherian Mathew from the High Performance Computing & Visualization Centre (HPC/V) of the Centre for Information Technology (CIT) of the University of Groningen customized and extended the code for Science LinX. Science LinX and HPC/V make sure the GPLv3 (code) and CC BY-SA 3.0 (art) are followed.

Although the AR solution is not yet a hufterproof solution nor very consumer friendly because of its sensitive non-ergonomic construction, we believe it's an attractive way to experience the different length scales for teenagers, our main focus. With this device the extra information is mixed with your own perception of the world. The virtual images appear in the cubes and on the beams of the exhibit. A Faculty building with coffee bar, students walking by and classmates are in the same view as the added digital layer of content. So you could see your classmates and some professors, only 4 inches high, in one view.

An extra level of immersion is reached by making use of chroma key. All researchers were filmed in front of a blue screen in a studio setting. The challenge for the researchers was, of course, to act normal in this aquarium-like habitat with nothing to hold and having to stand still (otherwise they could fall down from the beam of the exhibit!). Background could be filtered, so the allover effect is an even more realistic presence of the researcher on the building blocks of the exhibit.

Fig 4: MY FacilitiesFig 4: MY Facilities

Depending on the circumstances, it's of course possible to change the AR glasses for webcam solutions. Mainly we prefer to add some extra LCD screens with the view of the players and some speakers for surround sound, so bigger audiences can see what's going on. And although the content is in that setup already visible, still people like the idea of seeing it for themselves through the AR glasses, as if making sure, believing their own eyes.

Form follows content

The furniture design by Marcus Petstra projects the players as a metaphor onto the biggest square marker print by graphical designer Nynke Kuipers. Both players make a kind of voyage through the 'Powers of Ten', and the almost Startrek-like shape of the desk contributes to this 'voyager' feeling as well as to the feeling of being in control, having an overview of all the research topics of the faculty – like a DJ controlling the turntable. The sense of scale is further strengthened by continuing the dimensions of the ribs of the game play cubes in the overall design of the exhibit, with the human scale in the centre. Each tower consists of building blocks of the cubes.

Fig 5: form follows functionFig 5: form follows function

But to make it not too complex, a trichotomy system is followed in order to present a clear structure of presenting smaller than human-scale subjects on the lowest level of beams, human-scale subjects on eye level and bigger than human-scale subjects on the highest range of beams.

Researchers like Dr. Maaijke Mevius, who studies cosmic radiance particles, are filmed with a bird's eye view in order to simulate the feeling the player is looking down on tiny subject-matter. In contrast, Dr. Inga Kamp explores the boundaries of solar systems to figure out the uniqueness of our solar system and the formation of stars and planets out of protoplanetary disks. She is filmed with a worm's eye view and seemingly looks down on the players. Mart van de Sanden is filmed and positioned on eye level; he's doing research on Artificial Intelligence of robots and explains about the complexity of programming a robot which can walk or even play soccer.

In the exhibit 'MIGHT-y' every personal research object on which the researchers comment is brought back to one universal size, although experiencing the relative size of things in relation to your own size is still challenging. In this experience, you do have to check the important clues given by our graphical designer Nynke Kuipers: clues like sizes given in text, and the additional remarks and gestures of the researchers explaining the different length scales.

The Science LinX team cooperated with Gerwin Kramer to collect real data from all the researchers from thirteen different research institutes of the faculty. After converting that data from formats only suitable for specific scientific visualization tools, it was possible to get it all in the format suitable for further optimalization in 3dsMax. The setup of the hardware and software led to some level of necessary abstraction of the different datasets. Not too many polygons or frames per second in animations could be used.

Still, it's real data that the player sees. The 3D research objects have a level of 'aura': although it's digital and compressed, still it's the real thing. The researchers you meet in the exhibit have studied these datasets for hours and hours, so what's the deal to play this game and listen to their stories with some boundaries of glasses and rules of play to manage!

It was also a no-go to choose actors. Science LinX only shows the real faces behind cutting-edge science. Actors would make filming easier, as they are used to working in a studio and talking on camera, but we wanted the researchers of our faculty to come alive. Having real 3D research objects and researchers also upgrades the level of immersion in this exhibit, as we've talked about earlier in this paper.

Studio play

To make sure that we would portray the researchers as the professionals they are, we had to use professionals to make the movies. The studio 'MY Facilities' provided us with all the materials, technical equipment, expertise and service we needed. The coordinator of the exhibit, also project leader Science LinX (virtual), acted as producer. With the total design of the exhibit in mind, and responsibility for the selection of researchers and their topics from the different institutes, she cooperated closely with the project leader of Science LinX (physical) who acted as director.

Most challenging was scheduling the shootings, handling all the busy agendas of the thirteen researchers on only two days, to make sure budget was not exceeded. One rehearsal for optimal preparation saved precious time on the actual shooting days. Instructional moments with producer and student-assistant who also built the 3D research objects for the exhibit were tightly followed by actual shooting in the studio with producer, director and technical support.

The difficulty was to get a smooth take: cutting in between sentences was not allowed, as that would definitely be visible in the end result. One tiny error and a re-take was necessary. The importance of keeping it short (max. 1,5 minutes) and simple, bearing in mind the possible length of the game play and its relation to the total time of visiting the exhibit, was underlined by this intense studio-process.

Keeping it short made it easier for the players to comprehend, and forced researchers to focus on one example; it also made it easier for the researchers, as they had less to memorize. During the shooting we focused on how the researchers performed, keeping scenes spontaneous. Some of the researchers found it more difficult, and we had to invest time in making them feel at ease and helping them in telling their stories.

Still, some of them acted as if they'd done it many times before and were very natural. To us it was always vital that we stimulated each researcher, therefore enhancing the possibility of users identifying with one or more of them.

Crossing borders with BètaMentality

In the cross section of researchers, we chose in general a good balance between younger and more established role models. Of course it's nice to see some examples of research by young adults who are just a couple of years ahead of secondary school pupils. More established role models give a more long-term view of what they could achieve as scientists.

To appeal to girls, female role models were also carefully selected; for example, associate professor Prof. Dr. Roberta Croce, a Rosalind Franklin Fellow. She presents her research on molecular mechanisms of the light reactions of photosynthesis. Much research is done in the Netherlands, for example by the VHTO (national expert girls/women and science/technology on how to increase the involvement of girls in science and technology education. Many elements are important, but one of them is to provide female role models. Likewise, a mix of Dutch and English speaking researchers seemed a good design choice to follow, to give a realistic image of our faculty.

But above all these more general considerations, we followed some of the findings of the BètaMentality model. In a lot of ways the BètaMentality model was taken into account during the design process of the exhibit. The playfulness of the cube-interaction in the first stage of the game play connects in an informal way to teenagers. Even before that stage, it's possible especially for the High Techs to just check the technical functioning of the AR technique used. In our setup in our science center, it's not too bad if pupils interested in Informatics and Artificial Intelligence just focus on this layer of the exhibit.

For all of the BètaMentality groups, the importance of the appearance of the virtual researchers is not to be underestimated. The ambitious performance generation of a lot of Career Techs matches ambitious role models with challenging jobs as scientists, while their counterparts like some more guidelines and structure in order to get more of a grip on all these career perspectives. So meeting PhD students and researchers is helpful to further orientation for both groups. It would be a good enhancement of the exhibit to also implement some other career perspectives in it.

For the Socially-Minded Generalists, the content shows a lot of socially relevant subjects like the impact of CO2 emissions on global warming, insights into the photosynthesis processes in plants, more effective vaccine design against influenza, drug targeting and specific proteins causing Alzheimer disease. Also, role models of PhD students are important for this category.

But most interesting of all about this AR exhibit is that it has proven to be capable of triggering the Non Techs. After the first sneak previews and usability tests at the High Performance Computing & Visualization Centre, the first submersion of the exhibit into the Nano LinX program with visits of a couple of school classes and the official opening of the exhibit with all of the collaborators, the exhibit crossed borders and was put to the limit by thousands of visitors to the yearly performing arts festival 'Noorderzon'.

For the first time, a 10m x 10m x 10m science pavilion with the characteristic face of Einstein, and composed of science pics, was present at this major festival. A cube full of arts & science guided about 700 visitors each of the ten days from micro to macrocosm. The pavilion 'Qu3' was the ultimate proof that science is not at all boring, but exciting. In the midst of planetarium, DNA bar, video filter, instant messaging plants, bird flocking simulations and wipers which also simulated these patterns, robotic koi and ultrasonic experiments like 'bat sounds', MIGHT-y took care of instant virtual researchers in just one hundredth part of the pavilion, the size of the 'levelHead' cube.

Fig 6: Qu3 Science Cube with MIGHT-y exhibitFig 6: Qu3 Science Cube with MIGHT-y exhibit

A mobile version and setup were necessary to do the job, as the permanent version in the entrance of our faculty building is too robust and heavy. There was a gitterbox for the two PC's, speakers and cabling, with on top of it a nicely designed tabletop with a hole in the middle to lead the cables of the AR glasses. It was dressed up with the total setup of beams and cubes with markers, and accompanied by two big LCD screens on both sides of the exhibit to make the content visible for the large numbers of visitors.

Fig 7: Mobile MIGHT-y on Noorderzon Performing Arts FestivalFig 7: Mobile MIGHT-y on Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival

User experiences so far

Although there were some minor technical problems like loose contacts in the wiring to the video card and some small bugs in the programming of the game, causing a crash once in a while, reboot worked perfectly.

The allover experience was that everybody liked the exhibit. Even for Non Techs it was a successful funny way of interaction with the cubes. And the appearance of the virtual researchers telling their stories about their research objects stunned a lot of visitors, who all could see and hear the content on big LCD screens accompanied by surround speakers. The lively examples and comprehensive language appealed also to the Non Techs. They also liked the more experimental and creative aspects of the exhibit.

A lot of improvements based on the user experiences are already made. The gameplay was made a bit shorter by removing the 'under construction' signs in the cube with the 3D research objects. Our first insight was to present the logic of the total of 40 length scales, but fast navigation and getting as quickly as possible to the right content appeared of greater importance. Players are no longer confused by the signs which gave some feeling that 'the exhibit is not finished'. Also, the logic in this cube is now optimized.

We also added a permanent screen to the permanent exhibit after the responses on the Noorderzon festival. The current VUZIX AR glasses can't be exchanged quickly from one person to another. Also the technique, content and complexity of the gameplay provide that explainers are definitely needed for the guidance of the players. The current setup without explainers would be still too intimidating. So we prefer to show what's going on in the AR world of the exhibit in order to make sure new players are already familiar with the basic interaction. We also noticed that without explainers around, people tend to pull on cables while they should look at the markers. Often they are impatient, or their fingers crossing the markers block the rise of the added digital layer of information.

Another problem of the AR glasses is that these models aren't yet able to adjust sharpness to people wearing glasses. It is possible though to wear the AR glasses on top of your own pair of glasses. The other difficulty with these glasses still is to interact with a cube while wearing a pair of these glasses. The fitting of the glasses just isn't ergonomic and comfortable enough. And with this setup, the cubes seem too heavy, because you have to carry the cube in one hand in order to support the glasses.

The technical fine-tuning and debugging was time-consuming over all the project. Keep in mind the very important issues of lightning conditions in your exhibit space or temporary festival space. Markers which light up themselves, or at least necessary spots and filters to prevent shadows and flickering on the markers, are crucial for the functioning of the exhibit. Flexibility in setup with, for example, the mobile variant of the exhibit, is therefore no guarantee of flawless installation. You still need a lot of time, effort, tips & tricks to get the best results.

But flexible programming makes sure we do have a solution for all kinds of circumstances. Combined with two backup-modes: 'one player mode' and 'webcam solution', we make sure you can always play around with the exhibit. Flexible programming saves the day.

3. What's neXt?

Science LinX first explorations of AR with MIGHT-y were successful and will definitely get follow-up applications during the Night of Art & Science of the University of Groningen. AR has proven to be a great medium to present science and art in interactive, inspiring ,unconventional ways. And with the possibilities of combining it with architectural objects and cityscapes, even using the GPS based AR techniques and different options of actual showing the content on, for example, smart phone, the boundaries of the medium for science communication seem infinite.

The Molecular City forms the first follow up, an evening city tour in which you can discover the molecular structures behind the urban environment. Visualize the chemical building blocks of a PVC drainpipe, iron fences, and caffeine in the showcase of a shop, all with your iPhone or Android app. And who knows what's neXt in the student project AR-Laboratory which presents nanotechnology in or on the walls or pointed arches of 'der Aa' church in the centre of the city of Groningen?

In the meantime, follow-up student projects focus on optimization of the AR glasses used for MIGHT-y and alternative interaction variants or game play possibilities to bring the virtual researchers alive even faster. Also, optics for a supplementary gadget, like a small booklet, tape-measure or coaster, are works in progress in order to create a carrier for the used marker set, to be combined with additional information which our visitors can take home and use in front of their webcams to regenerate the virtual researchers on their own laptops or hand palm in front of the cam of a mobile Phone.

Fig 8: What's NeXt? AR-Laboratory in der Aa-church and Molecular City during the Night of Art & ScienceFig 8: What's NeXt? AR-Laboratory in der Aa-church and Molecular City during the Night of Art & Science

4. Conclusion

Innovation is important within the Science LinX setting to keep attracting young potential scientists and professionals to our faculty. It also provides possibilities for personalization and customizing content to the interests of our visitors.

Within the process of developing the AR exhibit MIGHT-y it became clearer that although you could really add more reality to one spot in the exhibition; namely, add real researchers of thirteen different institutes of the faculty at one spot, still the technique seems to be challenging and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Keep in mind that technology shouldn't overrule the content. On the other hand, don't fear some relapses during the design process, and keep in mind that flexible programming can help get the right balance in interaction, game play, and content in the end.

Optimizing game play in order to make sure the players do meet their favorite scientists in the palm of their hands provides a one-of-a-kind science center experience. It makes the further debugging and fine-tuning worthwhile.

Furthermore, every aspect of design has been critically verified against the actual content. 'Form follows function' is our motto. But we still need more exploration of what the best possible ways to implement these kind of emerging technologies for the benefits of our own goals are.

MIGHT-y was a nice experiment for exploring the possibilities of AR in science communication. Cooperation was interdisciplinary: High Techs, Career Techs, Socially-Minded Generalists and Non Techs all were present realtime.


The authors wish to thank Julian Oliver for his inspiring 'levelHead' game, the AR lab Den Hague, the initiators of Nanopodium, all the cooperators of the exhibit MIGHT-y, the initiators of the Qu3 science pavilion at the Noorderzon Festival 2010, and also Marcel Wouters with his great examples of using AR technology in exhibitions during one of his exhibition design courses.

5. References

Azuma, R. (1997). "A Survey of Augmented Reality". Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments 6, 4 (August 1997), 355-385.

Bimber, O. (2005). Spatial Augmented Reality. Merging Real and Virtual Worlds.

Ito, M. (2010). Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out. Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Lieftink, J. (2011). De prestatiegeneratie. Van carrièrekids tot keuzestress. Amsterdam: YoungWorks B.V.

Marliere, S. (2008). "An Augmented Reality Nanomanipulator for Learning Nanophysics: The "NanoLearner" Platform. International Conference on Cyberworlds.

Platform Bèta Techniek. (2010). "Betamentality 2011-2016. Attracting young people to science and technology".

Cite as:

Veldman, I., et al., Science LinX: the NeXt Level in Augmenting Science Center Xperiences. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2011: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2011. Consulted