2012 International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge

Games & Apps

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Science  01 Feb 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6119, pp. 516-517
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6119.516

No First Place was awarded

Honorable Mention

CyGaMEs Selene II: A Lunar Construction GaME

Debbie Denise Reese, Robert E. Kosko, Charles A. Wood, and Cassie Lightfritz, Wheeling Jesuit University; Barbara G. Tabachnick, California State University, Northridge

What better way to learn how the moon was made than to build one? In this online game geared to grade 5–12 students, players create their own moon with raw space materials, then pummel it with asteroids and flood it with lava. As they adjust the rates of accretion—new materials glomming onto the moon—and differentiation—materials of varying densities settling into a core, mantle, and crust—students create different kinds of moons and gain an intuitive grasp of the physics of collisions, says game theorist and principal investigator Debbie Denise Reese at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, West Virginia. Introductory scientific concepts such as impact cratering and volcanism can be "gatekeepers" for students, she says. "Year after year, decade after decade, they block students from certain areas of study." The goals of a CyGaMEs game like Selene are "to turn those concepts into something that the students can do with their bodies" and "measure learning while it occurs." In CyGaMEs Selene II, she says, "getting the best score is figuring out the science."

Game site

Funding and Copyright Statement: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0814512. Portions of this software are provided under license from Second Avenue Software, Inc., copyright 2007 - 2010 Second Avenue Software, Inc. All rights reserved.

Honorable Mention

Velocity Raptor

Andy Hall, TestTubeGames

This dapper green dinosaur wearing a bright blue cape is in a hurry to save the world—in fact, she moves at nearly the speed of light. At such breakneck speeds, the world behaves according to Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity.

This poses practical problems for players who must guide the creature through a world that morphs according to her velocity, incorporating concepts such as Doppler shift and length contraction. As she changes speeds, for example, a slow stream of easily dodged bullets becomes a rapid-fire assault, and the surfaces she must traverse stretch, shrink, and bend.

While Newtonian physics are fairly easy to grasp by "walking around and throwing rocks," says game designer and physicist Andy Hall, special relativity is much more difficult to understand because we don't directly experience it. Velocity Raptor is an attempt to "give people some intuition" about the physics of special relativity by letting them play with it themselves, Hall says.

Game site

People's Choice


Gayatri Mehta, University of North Texas

When faced with the problem of how to wire a more efficient computer chip, engineer Gayatri Mehta of the University of North Texas in Denton turned to crowd-sourcing. Inspired by a game that recruits online players to discover novel ways to fold proteins, Mehta designed UNTANGLED, a game in which users compete to make the most compact circuit layout on a grid. The real challenge of designing the game was "how to hide all the technical details so that people don't get scared of it's being an engineering problem," she says. To entice math and science phobes, she used bold color blocks and left out the underlying algorithms. The game allows her to record millions of new moves and discover human strategies for circuit design that could be employed to develop smaller, more powerful, and longer-lasting electronic devices. "I've learned a lot," she says. "People have amazing skills."

Game site

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