Special Relativity in Immersive Learning

  • Gregory ChuEmail author
  • Irene Humer
  • Christian Eckhardt
Conference paper
Part of the Communications in Computer and Information Science book series (CCIS, volume 1044)


In this paper, we discuss our development, implementation and evaluation of an interactive, real-time, and real-scale virtual reality application used to understand the theory of special relativity. Since special relativity deals with non-trivial counter-intuitive subjects such as the twin paradox and the Lorentz contraction, we utilize an immersive VR experience to visualize these phenomena. In doing so, we attempt to teach the theory of special relativity in a manner different than conventional abstract methods. In this study, we tested a set of participants and examined their understanding of special relativity theory before and after engaging with the VR experience. Using the results, we inspected for any correlations between their perceived immersion during and after the simulation and their acquisition of special relativity theory.

Our study has shown that visualizing the phenomena of special relativity in VR led to high immersion among participants and increased knowledge about the theory of special relativity. With this work, we hope to build upon the collective knowledge about the effects of learning in a strong, visually pronounced, and highly immersive environment.


Special relativity Virtual reality Immersive Learning User study 


  1. 1.
    Einstein, A.: Relativity: The Special and General Theory, 1999th edn. Methuen & Co. Ltd., London (1924)zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Scherr, R., Shaffer, P., Vokos, S.: Student understanding of time in special relativity: simultaneity and reference frames. Am. J. Phys. 69 (2002). Scholar
  3. 3.
    Gamow, G.: Mr Tompkins in Wonderland. Macmillan (1940).
  4. 4.
    Pan, Z., Cheok, A.-D., Yang, H., Zhu, J., Shi, J.: Virtual reality and mixed reality for virtual learning environments. Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) (2006)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Kondo, K.: Augmented Learning Environment using Mixed Reality Technology. National Institute of Multimedia Education (2006)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Abdoli-Sejzi, A.: Augmented reality and virtual learning environment. Comput. Graph. 30 (2015)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Adams, W., et al.: A study of educational simulations Part I - engagement and learning. J. Interact. Learn. Res. 19, 397–419 (2008)Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hong, R.: Immersion in reading and film as a function of personality. BSc thesis, Department of Psychology, University College London, U (2006)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Mermin, N.-D.: Lapses in relativistic pedagogy. Am. J. Phys. 62, 11 (1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Einstein, A.: On the electrodynamics of moving bodies. Annalen der Physik 17(10), 891 (1905). (End of ß4)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Dalarsson, M., Dalarsson, N.: Tensors, Relativity, and Cosmology, pp. 106–108. Academic Press, Boston (2015)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Lorentz, H.-A.: The relative motion of the earth and the aether. Zittingsverlag Akad. V. Wet. 1, 74–79 (1892)Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Belloni, M., Christian, W., Darcy, M.-H.: Teaching special relativity using physlets. Phys. Teach. 42, 284–290 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Horwitz, P., Taylor, E.-F., Hickman, P.: Relativity readiness’ using the RelLab program. Phys. Teach. 32, 81–86 (1994)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Carr, D., Bossomaier, T., Lodge, K.: Designing a computer game to teach Einstein’s theory of relativity. In: Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualisation, pp. 109–114 (207)Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Weiskopf, D., et al.: Explanatory and illustrative visualization of special and general relativity. IEEE Trans. Vis. Comput. Graph. 12, 522–534 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Taylor, E.-F.: Space-time software: computer graphics utilities in special relativity. Am. J. Phys. 57, 508–514 (1989)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    De Hosson, C., Doat, T., Kermen, I., Vézien, J.-M.: Designing learning scenarios for a 3D virtual environment: the case of special relativity. Lat. Am. J. Phys. Educ. 1 (2012)Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    De Hosson, C, Kermen, I., Maisch, C., Parizot, E., Doat, T., Vézien, J.-M.: Learning scenario for a 3D virtual environment: the case of Special Relativity. HAL (2014).
  20. 20.
    Savage, C., Searle, A., McCalman, L.: Real time reality: exploratory learning of special relativity. Am. J. Phys. 75 (2007). Scholar
  21. 21.
    McGrath, D., Wegener, M., McIntyre, T.-J., Savage, C., Williamson, M.: Student experiences of virtual reality: a case study in learning special relativity. Am. J. Phys. 78 (2010). Scholar
  22. 22.
    McGrath, D., Savage, C., Williamson, M., Wegener, M., McIntyre, T.: Teaching Special Relativity Using Virtual Reality. The University of Queensland (2008)Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Jennett, C., et al.: Measuring and defining the experience of immersion in games. Int. J. Hum. Comput. Stud. 66, 641–661 (2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Cairns, P., Cox, A.-L., Nordin, A.-I.: Immersion in digital games: review of gaming experience research. In: Angelides, M.C., Agius, H. (eds.) Handbook of Digital Games, pp. 337–361. Wiley, Hoboken (2014)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Chinta, R.: Measurements of Game Immersion through Subjective Approach. urn:nbn:se:bth-14825 (2012)Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Cox, A., Cairns, P., Bianchi-Berthouze, N., Jennett, C.: The Use of Eyetracking for Measuring Immersion (2019)Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Hafele, J.-C., Keating, R.-E.: Around-the-world atomic clocks: predicted relativistic time gains. Science 177(4044), 166–168 (1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. 28.
    IJsselsteijn, W.-A., de Kort, Y.-A.-W., Poels, K.: The Game Experience Questionnaire. Technische Universiteit Eindhoven (2013)Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Eckhardt, C: From Minkowski to Lorentz, a crash course in SRT. Youtube (2019).
  30. 30.
    Sowa, T.: Bignum C++ library (2015).
  31. 31.
    Mallinckrodt, A.-J.: Relativity theory versus the Lorentz transformations. Am. J. Phys. 61, 760 (1993)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.California Polytechnic State UniversitySan Luis ObispoUSA

Personalised recommendations