Looking back at #HullSciFest – How did Humber in a Box do?

It has been a week since another successful and enjoyable Hull Science Festival, and I’ve just returned from the debrief. The cogs are already turning for next year’s Festival which promises to be even bigger and better.

It was also the first chance I got to show off Humber in a Box to the public. It went down really well, even my Mother-in-Law enjoyed it. Seriously, there’s a picture of her below having a go, they came all the way from Croydon for the Festival too*.

There is, however, nothing like the coal face of public engagement to highlight where your work can be improved. In Humber in a Box you can raise sea level a metre at a time by pressing the shoulder button – this invariable led to people holding it down and flooding the Humber under a 100 m tsunami whilst I desperately tried to explain that it was predicted to rise by 1 m in the next 100 years. In short, it isn’t intuitive in this sense and will be looking to change this to switching between temporal scenarios instead (100 yrs, 200 yrs, 1000 yrs, all the ice melted etc…). This should lead people through more independently.

Another issue is the rate that the tides go in and out. This is trickier to solve as the CAESAR-Lisflood model is resolving live as part of the simulation, so this is largely dictated by the processing speed of the PC, a PC that is also displaying 3D graphics! When people were raising sea level they didn’t wait for high tide to return to see if there was any flooding – the cycle was too slow for them naturally consider it as part of the process and instead just raised the water level so they could see the change.

The third major take home from the event was that one user (me) and one set of equipment is not enough! If you’re engaging with a pair of people – one in the headset, one observer – and another group arrive, it is difficult to engage them in the activity until the first group has finished. Ideally, a set up of two headsets and three people would work best – two people to engage those on the headsets (and friends observing), and the third to work the queue and keep people interested.

Finally, some little points that I noticed –

  • A big box of sand with water running through it is VERY effective and VERY popular
  • People like to recall what they learnt at school, such as Oxbow Lakes or Isostatic uplift
  • You workforce are kept very happy through the medium of Creme Eggs
  • People love a free t-shirt
  • People really want to see the Humber under 100 m of water. In 3D.

All in all it was a great success and I am very pleased with how Humber in a Box has turned out, and hopefully it will be back next year with added functionality, or another SeriousGeoGames offering by its side.

*they were up anyway.

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