Department or Program

Computer Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Scott D. Anderson

Additional Advisor(s)

Wesley Andrés Watters


This thesis introduces the “adVantage – Seeing the Universe” system, a learning environment designed to augment introductory undergraduate astronomy education. The goal of the adVantage project is to show how an immersive virtual reality (VR) environment can be used effectively to model the relative sizes and distances between objects in space. To this end, adVantage leverages the benefits of three-dimensional models by letting users observe astronomical phenomena from multiple locations. The system uses pre-set vantage points to structure students’ progress through a “mission” designed to improve their understanding of scale. With this first mission, adVantage demonstrates the potential benefits of representing larger distances as multiples of smaller steps of a constant and observable size to convey relative distance in space, and of judging relative size by making observations at various vantage points a constant distance away from each other. Using an HTC Vive headset and hand-controllers, students exploring in adVantage will be able to observe the relative sizes and orbital movements of the subjects of the system: e.g., the exoplanet WASP-12b, its Sun-like star, WASP-12, and imagined satellites constructed to resemble the Earth and its Moon. In the first mission, users investigate the Earth’s average orbital radius around the Sun with the average orbital radius of WASP-12b around WASP-12 as a yardstick.