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 grant 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.

Exploratory & Generative Research

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. Our team conducted expert interviews and contextual inquiries with several museum scientists trying to find out how they identified key features in the petroglyphs and what they valued most as far as educating visitors went. We also conducted card sorting exercises and heuristic evaluations of the existing museum learning software.

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

Exploratory & Generative Research

Using the data we had collected from both museum-goers and scientists, I worked with Chris Bartley, a programmer at the CREATELab, to design and develop several iterations of prototypes, which I then tested with museum-goers.

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.

Using the feedback from our usability studies, we refined our design and deployed a final interactive piece as part of a larger exhibit in the museum, which we created working with a local fabrication studio, Laser Lab. The exhibit was installed at the museum and ran for around 4 months, and we were able to collect a large amount of data on usage. My collaborators and I then 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 and the other which was published in the International Journal of Designs for Learning.

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: Ahmed Ansari

Study Collaborators: Chris Bartley, CMU CREATELab, & Dr. Illah Nourbahksh, CMU School of Robotics