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Re-Living Paleontology: Studying How Augmented Reality Immersion and Interaction Impact Engagement and Communicating Science to the Public

April 26, 2023 | Exhibitions

Re-Living Paleontology conducted usability and comparison studies on immersion and interactivity in augmented reality (AR) and visitors' engagement and understanding of science. Two "Tar AR" experiences were designed and studied:

1) Pit 91 Experience: A tabletop AR experience, based on fossils found at La Brea. Learners “dig up” fossils and reconstruct a simulated environment based on fossil evidence. Each fossil cycle supported hypothesis testing and revision about the Ice Age climate at La Brea.

2) Field Experience: A life-sized AR experience was developed (animals and plants "to scale") and tested outdoors on the grounds of La Brea Tar Pits. This experience took visitors "back in time" to an Ice Age AR scene overlayed onto a field in modern-day Los Angeles.

Each exhibit involved multiple test conditions, encompassing levels of immersion (no AR, touchscreen AR, and headset AR) and interactivity (non-interactive, selection, and manipulation).  Pre- and post-tests revealed all conditions showed strong engagement and significant learning. AR using handheld smartphones produced comparable or better learning outcomes than low-cost Headsets which embed phones. Self-reported emotions showed some advantages for Headset AR but also some frustration. As a broader impact, this work published the process for developing 3D paleoart (virtual plants and animals from the Ice Age) and produced AR filters which allow visitors to use their phone to take “selfies” with Ice Age animals.


  • Benjamin D. Nye
    Principal Investigator
    University of Southern California
  • REVISE logo
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Southern California
  • David Nelson
    University of Southern California
  • Gale M. Sinatra
    Co-Principal Investigator
    University of Southern California
  • Emily Lindsey
    Principal Investigator
    Natural History Museum and La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
  • Molly Porter
    Natural History Museum and La Brea Tar Pits and Museum
  • Citation


    Funding Program: NSF AISL
    Award Number: 1810984 and 1811014
    Funding Amount: $1,471,459.00 and $520,204.00
    Resource Type: Research
    Discipline: Climate | Education and learning science
    Audience: Educators/Teachers | Evaluators | Learning Researchers | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists
    Environment Type: Exhibitions | Museum and Science Center Exhibits | Parks, Outdoor, and Garden Exhibits
    Access and Inclusion: Urban

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