the wave tank

While current museum exhibits about tsunamis and tidal waves, particularly those which use wave tanks, are wonderful for inspiring a sense of awe and wonder in visitors due to the force of the waves, many opportunities for actual education and learning are missed. As a part of the Tangible Interaction Learning and Design class, our goal was to redesign the wave exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry using tangible interaction design principles in order to improve the learning experience for children and all visitors who interact with the exhibit.

Our redesign incorporates more tangible elements, including knobs which can be moved up and down and side to side by visitors to change the visualization of the wave shown on the screen. When satisfied, this wave could be sent to the wave tank, and visitors can compete with one another to create the biggest wave, learning how waves are generated and what impacts their size. Read our final paper here.

Team: Spenser Huang, Kaitlyn MacIntyre, Amar Shah, & Jasmine Teng


The original exhibit

  • The current exhibit has a wave tank and a simple interface, which visitors could interact with to change the amplitude of the wave.

  • A board in the wave tank would push the water with the necessary force to create the wave, and the wave would roll forward, knocking over orange flags set up at the end of the wave tank if the wave is strong enough.

  • We noticed several issues right away:

    • An entirely software-dependent control panel prevented interaction and decreased learning.

    • There was no supporting information about tsunamis, waves, or how the different attributes of waves would affect the overall wave that was produced in the exhibit.

    • Frequent technical glitches in the software inhibited visitors from interacting with the exhibit.


The redesign

  • We chose to improve the way visitors generate waves, as well as the amount visitors can learn from the results of the wave.

  • Visitors can set both the wavelength and amplitude for tidal waves and tsunami waves using a physical board with slider knobs. The wave will be generated using the above factors as inputs.

  • The user then can select an object that would have a pressure sensor attached to it to measure the amount of force exerted by their wave.

  • Users then can compare across various trials to learn how different size waves affect their objects.

Our final prototype demo. The code base can be found here.


Key Learnings 

  • Though I had no background in hardware, I learned how to use an Arduino RedBoard and was responsible for setting up the force-sensitive resistor in the final prototype demo. I was also able to learn how to use a distance sensor for a technology showcase in class.

  • I learned about and put into practice principles of tangible interaction design, including visceral and responsive design principles, thick practice, and active prolonged engagement.