Gravity Well

A touchscreen, tabletop interactive exploring gravitational physics and its educational, companion application.

How can we stimulate curiosity and deeper exploration of abstract concepts?

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Tabletop Interactive

A social experience. Designed as an open sandbox experience, multiple users collaborate using simple intuitive gestures to create and release celestial bodies into the simulated landscape.


Companion Application

Exploring further. The educational app continues free exploration. Curious minds solve challenging physics-based puzzles to visualize abstract mathematical principles in physics.


A Multimedia, Interactive
Museum Exhibit

Drawing learners in…
Visitors implement simple, intuitive gestures to create and release celestial bodies based on simple to complex gravitational physics in space.



Social Collaborative. The collaborative nature of the table makes it a unique on-site museum experience

Multimedia, Haptic Response Interface. Touch vibration provides a tactile experience that appeals to multiple levels of cognition and increases awareness of touch interactions.

Traditional Table-top Shape. Implies a space to gather, share and converse.

Circular. Shape promotes simultaneous multiple users.

Infinity Digital Edge. Appealing for shorter guests as a visual cue.

Open Space Beneath Table. Allows stools to be added and pushed underneath.

Seating. Optional seating available inviting guests to spend more time with the exhibit.

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Intuitive Gestures.

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Tap + Hold
to create an object

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Fling + Release
to launch


Companion iOS App

Exploration beyond the museum…
Gravity Well, the educational companion app works cooperatively with the multimedia, interactive exhibit. It provides additional depth of information for those who wish to learn more about the phenomenon explored at the museum. By capitalizing on the affordances of individual experiences, the companion application allows classes to engage in peer-to-peer learning, creative problem solving and laboratory-like experimentation with abstract concepts in physics.

An educational app built for the iPad that challenges curious minds with increasingly complex physics puzzles and allows users to explore abstract concepts at their own pace or with their friends.


Individualized Experience. Provides more flexibility to a single player by allowing him/her to zoom, pan, pause/play on demand, toggle information on/off to learn more about physics.

Dual Modes. Allows players to choose between adventure and Freeplay modes. Adventure presents challenging, physics based puzzles. The more challenging the puzzle, the more points gained. Freeplay is an open sandbox that allows players to create and explore gravitational principles.

Freeplay mode
is similar to the museum exhibit. Players, however, are able to explore phenomena in depth through direct interaction by creating scenarios, pausing, zooming in/out, and time scrubbing.

Adventure mode is a peer-to-peer educational game. Classes work as a team to grow a celestial body and increase the size of its gravity well in a head-to-head, tug-of-war.

Supports Collaborative Education. Class and individual progress is viewable on adventure mode’s levels screen to promote independent learning and creative problem solving.

Increasingly Complex Physics Puzzles. Lets players build upon knowledge and explore multiple levels of complexity. Hints are available as clues that cost points.

Conceptually-Based. Promotes understanding of abstract mathematical concepts in physics such as Newton’s Law of Gravitation, so students are able to understand the principles behind the equations.

Intuitive Gestures.

Tap + Hold
to create an object

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Fling + Release
to launch

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to create object

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Drag object
to scrub time

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to zoom out

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Double tap
for more information


Overview of Experience


Discover the Process

Informal Education in Science Museums. Humans are naturally curious. We have an inherent drive to learn about the world. Learning outside of classrooms creates opportunities for us to actively pursue answers to our questions. Science museums that provide interactive, learning experiences engage audiences because they create environments where there is less pressure to “succeed”. We studied two local science museums with different approaches for the same goal: to encourage lifelong learning and curiosity.

Museum of Life & Science, Durham
Since its inception, the Museum of Life and Science (MLS) has embraced simple, tangible learning experiences. They aim to create moments of wonder by cultivating an environment that encourages self-driven exploration in which young children to senior citizens can embrace science as a way of knowing about themselves, their community and their world. Click here for more details on the research

NC Museum of Natural Science, Raleigh
The NCMNS pioneers interpretive exhibitions and educational programs to offer to the public. Today, the museum emphasizes a combination of technology and curation of social experiences to reach the curious. Whether, on-site, off-site, or online, the NCMNS aims to invigorate the public by cultivating curiosity into interest, interest to engagement, and engagement into action.

Creating Opportunities and Experiences. One strategy at the MLS in Durham is to create task-oriented, tangible exhibits that encourage exploration. The manipulation of physical objects aids understanding of abstractions such as fractions and other mathematical concepts. These types of exhibits, however, are shown to be most effective at reinforcing concepts wherein the user is already knowledgeable on the subject. Moreover, users that are previously unfamiliar with the subject, often take away inaccurate conclusions. Alternatively, the NCMNS in Raleigh provides concrete information in which visitors passively view artifacts and read accompanying signage. It is less likely the information will be misconstrued, but also less memorable.

Interaction with an exhibit is often less than 3 minutes. Museums must aim to entice visitors to engage further. 
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Task Analysis Successful interactions with museum exhibits.

Personas and Scenarios. Museum demographics range from children, families, students and teachers, and concerned citizens and enthusiasts

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Persona Task Analyses How each persona moves through a museum exhibit.


Science museums such as the MLS in Durham emphasize open-ended learning outcomes. Exhibits may be created with a specific learning outcome in mind, however, it isn't necessarily the point of the exhibit. The museum simply wants visitors to learn something. Whether the user takeaways are the principles on the physics of gravity in space or understanding that "I am a part of a larger system in which my actions cause reactions that affect the whole" or even "If I touch the screen, it will vibrate", all learning outcomes are equally as important.

When we started this project we focused on teaching people about a specific complex and abstract concept. For example, the mathematics of physics. The interviews with exhibition designers revealed surprising new perspectives on viewing science and math education. Most importantly, there are numerous one can teach a specific concept, but if you teach a person how to learn or how to be curious the lesson is more valuable in the long run.


Trevor Berreth

Raleigh Urbanization

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