The Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science is all about proving that learning can — and should — be fun, no matter your age. With a new addition, the museum has one more way to do just that.
The iSandbox, which opens at the museum on Saturday, is a modern take on that childhood classic, using augmented reality to create an interactive learning experience.
"Three years ago, I saw (the iSandbox) and thought, 'We have to do this!'" said Koral Hancharick, the museum's executive director. "Our hope is to help children and adults learn more about science in a fun, interactive way."
From a projector above, images are cast over the sparkling white Sandtastik sand, displaying something different depending on which of the 16 settings has been chosen. The height or depth of the sand (built into a mound or dug into a funnel) also changes what is projected onto the sand.
One setting is Topography, where users can build up mountains or dig bodies of water, changing the picture as fast as they construct. In the Volcano setting, they can build up a volcano and, removing sand from the top, make it erupt.
The Painter setting lets users uncover new colors with the depths of sand — putting sand on top of the blue layer reveals green, then purple, or remove sand from the blue to display red and, deeper, teal. Other settings, like Butterfly Valley, are games, where users might have to tap on a cyclops to defeat it.
Hancharick found the iSandbox online three years when she was looking for new ways to make science fun at the museum, she said.
"I was just searching for fun things to do with kids and science and saw that UC Davis had one of these," she said. "I just thought it was the coolest sandbox I'd ever seen."
After coming across the iSandbox, Hancharick quickly set to work securing funding for the project. With the sandbox itself, 500 pounds of sand and signage, the project cost a total of around $12,000.
"We got some great donations from six different individuals," she said. "Through that we were able to purchase it."
Donors were Carol Bowman, Pat and Tim Elam, Sarah and Julie Lorenzen and the Pacific Section American Association of Petroleum Geologists Foundation.
The exhibit is set up on the museum's first floor, where it will be overseen by a docent to help users switch between settings (and to make sure the sand doesn't build up too high over the confines of the box).
Jessica Herrold, an administrative assistant at the museum, said she hoped she would be on iSandbox duty regularly. Her four children were recently at the museum getting to try it out early.
"I absolutely love it," Herrold said. "I can't wait to have kids be able to come here. It's such a great learning tool. It makes learning fun."