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Interactive Sandbox a Big Hit with UW Geological Museum Visitors

July 13, 2015
people playing in sandbox with projected colors for height variations in sand
Children and adults alike enjoy playing in the high-tech sandbox at the UW Geological Museum. (UW Geological Museum)

Who wants to play in a sandbox while standing in the shadows of some of the world’s best-preserved dinosaur collections? Nearly everyone who enters the University of Wyoming Geological Museum, that’s who.

It’s no ordinary sandbox, though. It’s called an Augmented Reality Sandbox (ARS), an interactive exhibit that teaches such concepts as topography, watersheds, ecosystems and much more using kinetic sand and innovative software technology. UW is among only a handful of institutions in the United States that offers an ARS experience to visitors. Several research centers developed the ARS with funding from the National Science Foundation.

At the UW Geological Museum, the sandbox is not only being used as an interactive public display, it also serves as a tool for some of the geology classes to explain topographical maps and watersheds.

“Future plans are to create an ARS module where the water function acts as groundwater and will have a water-table baseline that can be ‘drilled into’ by lowering elevation of sand,” says Laura Vietti, museum and collections manager.

It’s fun, too. Vietti says the sandbox is easily one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. Both children and adults usually spend more time there than at the other exhibits.

“The typical response we hear is ‘this is so cool!’, or ‘wow, how does this work,’” Vietti says. “My favorite comment was by a student visiting the museum with a class group, who said ‘I can’t wait to come back this weekend with my friends to play with this again.’”

One of the reasons the ARS is such a hit with visitors is because it is one of the museum’s truly interactive exhibits. Vietti says several other museum exhibits allow visitors to touch fossils or take a guess at identifying some.

“One of our goals is to offer more interactive exhibits at the museum,” she says.

See the video below for a demonstration of the sandbox. The video also can be found at

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