Physics & Astronomy, School of Science

To help high school and college students gain a better grasp of physics, a trio of CURCA Summer Scholars is developing apps featuring 3D simulations – one of which was inspired by a childhood playground.

Under the direction of Michele McColgan Ph.D., associate professor of physics, the team is using the game design program Unity and the Merge Cube to create the apps, so others can better visualize difficult physics concepts.

“The project this summer was to create an application to help students understand the topic of torque,” said McColgan. “The team created a 3-D playground to demonstrate principles of torque, circular motion, angular acceleration, and the right-hand-rule.”

Team leader Nick Giordano ’21, along with Kyle Tessier ’22 and Adam Leonard ’23, worked remotely and met each day with their advisor via Zoom, using Unity's new Colab sharing tool.

The playground where Tessier played as a little kid provided some nostalgic inspiration for the project. 

"When we were first brainstorming this app we were struggling to come up with a solid, real-world torque example to base our app on,” he explained. “While thinking, I tend to stare out the window for no good reason. Back home, my bedroom window faces a tiny, old playground with a see-saw, merry-go-round, swings, a slide, and a picnic table. That day, looking out the window at that park where I spent countless hours, actually sparked our idea of a physics playground augmented reality app!"

Giordano learned that their project could cover many academic bases.

“When I first joined the project, I thought it only involved physics and education majors. As a software development major, I didn't know if I was needed. Now, I know this project can involve a broader range of academic disciplines,” he said. “Developing augmented reality applications is an adventure in that I have been approached with tasks that sometimes seem initially impossible. Then developing a system or process to complete the task make the results very satisfying.” 

Leonard agreed that the research initially seemed as daunting, especially since it would be conducted over Zoom.

“Doing this has allowed me as a computer science major to see more possibilities, and that projects are better to do with others because they can help you in the end. Zooming was easier to do than I thought, and the screen share function allowed us to work with more coordination and more as a team.”