I SEA – Immersive virtual reality environments to evaluate audience attitudes about science communication projects: a pilot study of deep sea ecosystems

Reference: UTAP-EXPL/CD/0106/2017

Evaluation has moved up the agenda in Science Communication. However, some procedures, while available, may be too obtrusive to use recursively in science centers and/or conflict with science center visitors’ agendas. Our idea is to develop a non-obtrusive, valid and replicable method to evaluate audience attitudes about science communication projects through an immersive virtual reality environment that can improve exhibitions while educating and empowering citizens.

We will embrace the Azores International Research Center agenda, specifically, deep sea ecosystems sustainability, by producing new digital content and carrying out pilot studies in local and national science centers.

The immersive virtual reality environment will have two modalities: for one person (individual condition) and for a group of individuals (collective condition), that will be supported by a game-based approach and multilinear storytelling. The journey will take visitors into extreme deep sea conditions, scaffolded according to three levels – a) awareness, b) understanding and c) engagement – regarding science/technology processes and contents: In the individual condition, the environment consists of a capsule with head-mounted displays and headphones to provide an immersive experience. In the collective condition, the digital environment will be projected fulldome in a hemisphere room. In both cases, visitors will apply for a passport, choose a character and a mission. The difference is that in the individual condition the environment responds directly to the visitor’s actions while in the collective condition it will mirror the consequences of the majority of choices.

At the end, visitors receive a “deep-sea-gram”, which is a short summary of their path through the game. More than delivering stories, the “deep-sea-gram” is expected to push visitors to create and share their own stories about their experience and to signify their relationship with the scientific endeavour. To develop a comparative framework, we will run several experiments to validate the method via within- and between-subjects plans.

Title Immersive virtual reality environments to evaluate audience attitudes about science communication projects: a pilot study of deep sea ecosystems
Reference UTAP-EXPL/CD/0106/2017
Scientific Area Space-Earth Interactions
Funding 99 860,00€
Leading Institution Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade do Porto (FCUP)
Participating Institutions The University of Austin at Texas (UT Austin)
Associação para a Promoção de Investigação em Design e Arte (ESAD IDEA)
Centro de Astrofísica da Universidade do Porto (CA/UP)
Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto (FEUP)
Sociedade Afonso Chaves (SAC)
Duration 24 months
Begin date 1st November, 2018
End date 31st October, 2020 (extended)
Key Words Digital Media, Immersive Virtual Environment, Science Communication, Evaluation methods
Website https://www.fc.up.pt/isea/



Immersive virtual reality environments to evaluate audience attitudes about science communication projects: a pilot study of deep-sea ecosystems

Project Team

Carla Morais

Principal Investigator in Portugal

Lucy Atkinson

Principal Investigator in Austin


"The project exemplifies the goals of the UT Austin Portugal call in a number of important ways. First, it is an exploratory study with an emphasis on the scientific areas outlined by the Azores International Research Center, specifically deep ocean science, as well as CoLab Emerging Technologies Research, specifically digital media. Second, it brings together an exceptionally strong collaborative team of researchers and practitioners from Portugal and UT Austin. These individuals represent a diversity of theoretical, methodological and practical backgrounds, which translate into a strong foundation and allow scaffolding for future collaborations. Third, not only does this project offer important insights for academic research and theory development, but it also offers vital practical implications, including the development of white papers on emerging technologies in new scientific areas as well as the potential for commercialization of the project’s technological and communication deliverables."

Principal Investigators

"Working collaboratively, our aim is to establish an interdisciplinary, long-term cross-cultural research group to tackle pressing issues related to science and sustainability. Our initial research endeavour aims to do this by examining lay audience understandings of deep sea science and how these complex scenarios are communicated to and understood by members of the public. It is our hope that this first study demonstrates the utility of this kind of interdisciplinary, international research group so that we might extend the protocol to other issues of scientific importance, such as climate change, nanotechnology and clean energy."

Principal Investigators


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