Plankton like you've never seen it: using Augmented Reality to show what can't be seen

Marie-Aimee Galeron, Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, Marseille Cedex 09, France
Up until now, we have taught and transmitted knowledge directly, teacher to student. In the past few years, technology has allowed us to use innovative visualization techniques to help students imagine and understand complex concepts and organisms more easily.

In Ocean Sciences, many researchers work on subjects, organisms or molecules that are difficult, if not impossible to see. Plankton is one of those. Outside of our field, most people have heard of it, but very few know about its roles, its diversity, or even the shapes it can take.

Using 3D modelling and augmented reality, we have created a mobile application designed to help us engage the public about plankton in an easy, fun, and educational way. Aware of the need to make educational applications more mainstream, we have coupled our augmented reality engine with a “treasure-hunt-like” feature using geolocation, where the public can use the application freely to visit a city, all the while trying to discover and learn more about plankton.

This application, called Street Science, provides a map and hints to help users locate the physical markers hidden around the city, usually along popular and touristic neighborhoods. Once a marker is located, the users can scan it to display the corresponding organism in augmented reality. Marker design and location, as well as the educational content, have been carefully thought to be accessible to all publics, especially children.

Currently in place in Marseilles, these science-based treasure hunt itineraries could be created in any city, neighborhood or campus, permanently or for the duration of an event, and be built to focus on any scientific area or domain. What better way to teach about science than being able to show what can’t usually be seen?