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SMU Research Days

Simulations for AR/VR Learning Innovation

Welcome to the Design Lab!

This research, centered in Harold Simmons, focuses on recreating STEM simulations from the online PhET Library used by many academic institutions including professors here at SMU. We recreated Physics and Chemistry Simulations for the Magic Leap Augmented Reality Headset. Our project is to build an AR/VR STEM Simulation Library that provides a more immersive and interactive learning experience with popular Augmented and Virtual Reality Headsets

Our Goal:

Gather User Feedback to improve the user experience, usability, and effectiveness for our simulations compared to PhET web simulations



The STEM Simulation Library project is designed for teaching STEM concepts with the immersive and interactive capabilities of AR/VR Headsets. Our usability testing involved Students and Teachers trying the STEM Simulation Library project on a Magic Leap Augmented Reality Head Mounted Display. They tested one simulation about Molecular Shapes and one on Projectile Motion. Users compared each one to similar web based simulations from the online PhET library to help provide feedback on ways to improve both AR/VR Simulations 

What is AR/VR?

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are immersive technologies that are new to the consumer market. They are head mounted displays (HMDs) that when worn, immerse users into 3D visual environments. Virtual Reality which is fully immersive is common in gaming and media, while Augmented Reality is common in enterprise software because it can overlay information on what a users sees in the real world


Magic Leap AR Headset

PhET Molecular Shapes


Our first step was to identify STEM concepts to develop in AR/VR. We started with Physics Projectile Motion and developed it for Magic Leap using Unity Game Engine software. These being 3D simulations, we can render each experience within the user's environment. With each prototype, we focused on improving mechanics, interaction, and visuals

For Chemistry, we instead recreated a one for one 3D version of PhET's own Molecular Shapes simulation

In the Demo section below are two videos of the STEM Library Simulations using the Magic Leap AR Headset

Following that is the Data we collected from our testing



  • Eight participants tested two educational AR apps for usability and compared them to using two PhET science simulations that addressed similar content

  • Four males and four females tested the apps over a two-week period

  • Most reported above average technology experience and average experience with video games, but little experience with AR

  • Most participants reported being somewhat comfortable with the content addressed in these simulations



Based on the data collected in this usability test as part of this design-based research, the team prioritized focusing on the Projectile Motion AR app because it was reported to be more valuable for learning compared with the similar PhET simulation


We are making several changes to the Projectile Motion AR app, including:


  • Changing how the ball is aimed and launched to use more natural hand gestures

  • Making the activity more challenging by adding 2+ hoops that the user must launch the balls through for success after they first get it through one hoop

  • In addition, we are adding information to focus the user on speed and angle concepts to reinforce learning


Engaged Learning Fellow:

José A.Velazquez

Faculty Adviser:

Dr. Anthony Cuevas

Faculty Researcher:

George Hickey

Design Team:

Tianyu He

Royce Rueda

Josh Lauer

Nathan Hites

Parker Johnstone


SMU Research Days

Simulations for AR/VR Learning Innovation


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