Virtual Reality as a Means to Experience the Theory of Relativity
Learning by experience is an important way in museums and other forms of science communication to show how things work and make them understandable. In this exploring study we used virtual reality to let people experience two aspects of Einstein’s relativity theory: the ladder paradox and Lorentz contraction. Those aspects could never be experienced in a real world. Depending on the point of view of an observer, a ladder will fit or not fit in a barn. The experience of different observers seem to be contradictive, but according to the relativity theory they are true. Lorentz contraction implies that two persons who are moving near the speed of light relative to each other, will see themselves in normal proportions, but will see the other person shortened in the direction of the movement. By using virtual reality, it should be possible to let people experience the effects of the ladder paradox and Lorentz contraction.
An installation was developed with which two participants can interact simultaneously. The installation simulates Lorentz contraction and creates different perspectives depending on the observer. We succeeded in creating a new experience using the installation. This first exploration did not proof the experience contributed to the understanding of the theoretical background. People enjoyed participation, it made them think and they gained interest in the subject.
Hugo Scheepens, "Virtual Reality as a Means to Experience the Theory of Relativity", Master's Thesis for the Media Technology programme, Leiden University (The Netherlands), 2012