This project will develop an interactive application for spherical displays developed by NOAA called Science on a Sphere. The spheres are animated globes that can show dynamic, animated images of the atmosphere, oceans, and land of a planet. NOAA primarily uses SOS as an education and outreach tool to describe the environmental processes of Earth. Science On a Sphere was initially developed as a way to explore environmental data using new visualization techniques. There are about 70 installations of the sphere in science centers, planetariums and museums world-wide with 40 in the US. Currently the spheres only display static content. This project will extend the amount of content available and provide interactivity. The resulting application will be available to both installed spheres and those institutions thinking about purchasing and installing the sphere display.

Math on a Sphere will enable users to create 3-D interactive graphic content for spheres. The project will enable users to interact with the displays they develop for the spheres either on-site or remotely. Through the use of a computer-based toolkit, users can create their own programs, build geometric patterns, and send a variety of graphical content to the spherical display. The project hypothesizes that user-directed development combined with a visually compelling spherical display will spark interest in STEM topics and specifically, in the test version, mathematical content.

This project will prototype, design, implement, test, and evaluate software that allows users to display their computational work on an installed sphere as well as work remotely on the project and to test their mathematical computations by viewing the spherical display remotely either through a computer monitor or a camera view of the sphere itself. While the prototype will be developed focusing on mathematical concepts, there are clear links between the toolkit being developed to physics, meteorology, oceanography and astronomy. The project will increase the computational and spatial reasoning and thinking of the target audience of middle school and high school students. The application will be available remotely for individual users but could easily be used in classroom settings. The application can be used by teachers and museum and science center staff as well to encourage its use among users both on site and remotely. The successful demonstration of interactive 3-D display of science concepts using the Science on a Sphere installations can lead to interactive use of other large public display installations such as walls or large screen projection. This capability would extend the ability of users to derive greater use of these visually driven devices for learning STEM concepts and content.

Project Report

Math on a Sphere (MoS) is a Web-based environment that enables children to imagine, program, and share creative designs on a spherical display intended for use in museums and science centers. A technical team at the University of Colorado at Boulder working in collaboration with the University of California’s Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science created a scripting language and grammar that enabled user designs to be rendered and projected on a spherical display at the Fiske Planetarium and at the U.C. Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science. A primary objective was to explore ways in which a large publically-located surfaces, in this case, the 6-foot diameter spherical display system known as the Science on a Sphere created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could be transformed into a co-created, participatory learning experience for visitors in math, 3D geometry, and coding. This work expanded upon an exploration of computationally-expressive technologies for learning. The central outcome of this project is to create, test, and evaluate a powerful, expressive working system for (a) introducing spherical (and by extension non-Euclidean) geometry to students from middle-school grades upward, and (b) to demonstrate the feasibility of empowering students to exhibit their programs on a high-end public display surface such as the Science on a Sphere display. The working system described is freely and permanently available to students worldwide and can be run in the widely available Firefox browser. Pedagogical support materials illustrating the software and spherical geometry concepts can be found at the project website ( and the source code is available from a shared GitHub repository.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)
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William Neufeld
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University of Colorado at Boulder
United States
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