Scale Worlds

A multi-year project for the National Science Foundation. The first phase focused on the creation of two virtual reality-based learning environments where students can experience scales ranging from the size of the universe down to an atom. The second goal was to create a web-based flat-screen version of the VR experience. Finally, we wrote a research paper about the process of mapping the VR experience to the web.




Scale Worlds is a virtual learning environment which enhances participants’ conception about size and scale. It has been funded through a National Science Foundation award titled Virtual Reality to Improve Students’ Understanding of Scale in STEM. For two years I worked under the guidance of Dr. Matthew Peterson and in close collaboration with professors and doctoral students from the Human Factors Engineering and STEM Education departments to design and develop this scale cognition learning environment. STEM educators acted as analysts providing educational requirements from literature, as designers we interpreted these requirements into specific design features in the three virtual environemtns.

astronaut in scale worlds
image of HMD with 3d model representing the user

Head-mounted Display

Imge of CAVE

Cave Augmented Virtual Environment

The way in which the user interacts with the environment was designed to mimic changing an exponent in scientific notation and moving decimal places in standard notation: concepts seen in American science and math curricula.

gif of the decimal dance animation

Animation of decimal moving

Scale Worlds – Web

I independently created the web version as a way to bring the Scale Worlds experience to people who don't have access to expensive VR equipment.

The core theory of Scale Worlds – VR was mapped into a set of new features which would live more naturally on a flat screen display. I authored a paper about this process, Preserving theoretically-grounded-sm functions across media platforms in interaction design, which was published in the IASDR 2023 conference proceedings.

Screenshot of the website
Screenshot of the website
Screenshot of the website
Screenshot of Universcale

Screenshots of Universcale, research, & Eames' Powers of Ten video

Screenshots from Eames' Powers of Ten video
Image from science textbook showing various scales

Diagrams from unknown science textbooks

Image from science textbook showing various scales
Table with all tracked features from scale worlds

We tracked all design features across the three versions from specific theoretical assertions based in the scale cognition literature.

Although all of the design features were based in theoretical assertions we utilized user testing at multiple stages throughout the design/development lifecycle. We used user testing in cases where we had determined multiple possible solutions. For example, we tested a variety of enivornment schema to guauge how it affected learners' understanding of objects' scale and the clarity of interactive elements.

diagram of forest layout

"the forest" layout

image of some research descriptions
image of some research descriptions
image of some research descriptions
image of some research descriptions
image of professor in cave
image of proffessor in cave