Exploring the Universe from Antarctica - An Informal STEM Polar Research Exhibit
Many concepts in astrophysics research can be difficult for a lay individual to understand or to comprehend their importance. One such example concept is the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, which detects high-energy neutrinos at the South Pole in Antarctica. The observatory uses information from detected neutrinos originating deep in outer space to better understand astrophysical phenomena like black holes or exploding stars. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for the public to understand how these pieces fit together towards creating a more complete understanding of our universe. To promote public understanding of IceCube, an interactive exhibit was created which used large multi-touch screen and Virtual Reality (VR) equipment. The exhibit, placed in a public environment, was evaluated both formally and informally around its effectiveness of providing STEM learning opportunities. The results show that the system not only provided an effective means of conveying content, but also provided a means of sparking the curiosity of users to learn more about the presented subject matter. Further results show that outcomes demonstrated significant differences between subject responses depending upon which of the two deployed devices they used. Findings also provide evidence that retrospective survey designs have the same rigor in data collection as traditional pre-and posttest designs when investigating exhibits. Based on these findings, guidelines are offered for others who aim to deploy similar systems in publicly accessible spaces.