Scaffolding Scientific Observation in Museums Through Gigapixel Technology

Fall 2012 & Spring 2013

I spent ten months working on this research project at the University of Pittsburgh. As part of an NSF involving an ongoing collaboration between the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, CMU’s CreateLab, and the University of Pittsburgh’s UPCLOSE Lab, I worked  to explore and study how gigapixel image technology (developed between Google and CMU) could be used to support science communication and learning in museum environments. Multitouch based explorations of dynamic visual information spaces present unique user interface and interaction design opportunities and challenges, and the object of the project was to synthesize findings from a series of human centered design studies to optimize navigation, annotation and exploration in a zoomable user interface, and scaffold disciplinary observation and engagement with specific scientific content.

Contextual inquiry with the museum scientists.
Contextual inquiry with the museum scientists.

Using our findings and, combining them with several theoretical frameworks from Goffman and Wurman, I worked with Chris Bartley, a programmer at the CREATELab, to design and develop several iterations of prototypes, testing them with users, and finally deploying a refined final solution as part of a larger exhibit in the museum.

Chronological sorting through information.
Theme based sorting, and a different UI to test on users.
Different ways on how annotations could be modified for enhanced functionality.

The exhibit was installed at the museum and ran for around 4 months, and we were able to collect massive amounts of data on usage. I and my collaborators wrote two research papers outlining the case study and it’s findings, one of which we presented at the Museums and the Web conference in May 2013, You can read the paper here.

Final deployed prototype.
The museum exhibit.
Kids using the interactive kiosk.
Kids using the interactive kiosk.
Research Grantee and Principal Investigator: Marti Loew, UPCLOSE Lab, University of Pittsburgh
Research Associate and Interaction Designer: Ahmed Ansari
Study Collaborators: Chris Bartley, CMU CREATELab, & Dr. Illah Nourbahksh, CMU School of Robotics

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