Gravbox is an educational tool to demonstrate the effects of gravity on an object in space. It is an augmented reality environment aimed at students in high-school and undergraduate astronomy classes, but it's accessible to learners of all ages. Users manipulate a physical sandbox to create their own gravitational environment, and then they can launch an object through this environment to see its orbit in the Universe that they create. Bigger holes mean more massive objects, so they will "pull" on the object more strongly than a small divot. The orbits and sand surface information are projected onto the sand directly, updating in real time to how the user moves the sand around. This allows students to gain a better intuition for the complex gravitational fields and mass distributions that fill the Universe. Gravbox was developed by students at the University of Iowa. Support for this work is provided by the National Science Foundation grant AST-1614326 (PI: Hai Fu) and the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Iowa.

Gravity Simulator Demonstration

Media Coverage

Reed and Isbell with Gravbox

Press-Citizen: University of Iowa students show science behind gravity with 'sandbox'

Thursday, April 12, 2018
“Gravbox” — a complex, illustrative, interactive tool was developed by University of Iowa physics and astronomy students to show the amazing effects of gravity in space.
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Astronomy- Gravbox: The augmented-reality sandbox that helps users visualize gravity

Friday, January 19, 2018
“Gravbox” lets users mold their own universe out of sand, then observe how gravity influences an object traveling through the environment.
Grav Box (Daily Iowan)

Daily Iowan: Students use sandbox to demonstrate gravity

Thursday, January 18, 2018
University of Iowa students have created an augmented-reality sandbox, dubbed Gravbox, to help explain how gravity affects objects when they travel through a certain environment. The environment is created with the sand, then a computer program projects a particle moving through that environment to show how gravity will affect it.

Space Daily: Students design and build augmented-reality 'sandbox' to show how gravity works

Friday, January 12, 2018
A University of Iowa undergraduate student gave a talk on Jan. 11, 2018 at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting in Washington, D.C. about a sandbox created by students to show how gravity works in the universe.

Inverse: Watch Iowa Researchers Mold Mini-Universes with Sand and Augmented Reality

Thursday, January 11, 2018
Jacob Isbell, an Iowa senior in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and a team of other students have created an augmented reality sandbox that simulates gravity and other astrophysical forces that make up the universe.
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Iowa Now: Student-created ‘sandbox’ shows how gravity works

Monday, January 8, 2018
The NSF-funded augmented-reality sandbox, dubbed “Gravbox,” is the first interactive system of its kind to be used for astrophysics.
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KCRG-TV: UI virtual sandbox shows gravity in action

Thursday, January 4, 2018
There's a new sandbox at the University of Iowa, but this one isn't for building sandcastles. This virtual sandbox helps explain gravity. Research students basically computercoded their own universe. That environment is projected onto a box of sand and you can move the sand to make any changes you like.

Public Demonstrations

STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) festival, Iowa City, IA, April 15, 2018
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A new Gravbox made by Queen's College, Ontario, CA, May 2018


Physics Demo Show, March 9, 2018
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