Undergraduate students designed and built a sandbox where users can mold their own universe with sand and watch how gravity affects an object -- a spacecraft or a comet, for example -- as it travels through the imagined environment. Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, the augmented-reality sandbox, dubbed "Gravbox," is the first interactive system of its kind to be used for astrophysics. Similar setups exist for geology and engineering but the student researchers advanced the concept to bring gravity, an invisible force not easily explained or understood, to life. The sandbox will be used to teach fundamental principles in physics, such as gravitational dynamics involved in the distribution of stars, the shapes and evolution of galaxies, and more.
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