TIDAL Lab is a team of designers, artists, learning scientists, and computer scientists at Northwestern University. Our research creates and studies innovative technology-based learning experiences. We take a cautious but optimistic stance towards technology in a process that tightly couples research and design.

Recent Projects

Tern is a tangible computer language designed to provide an easy introduction to programming. Tern combines inexpensive materials and reliable computer vision to offer a portable and flexible programming environment. Tern was featured at the Boston Museum of Science and the Tangible Kindergarten project at the Tufts University.

Grant: NSF IIS-0414389, NSF DRL-0735657

Strawbies is an open ended coding game for the iPad and Osmo. Players ages 5 and up use wooden coding blocks to guide Awbie through a fun and engaging world.

Green Home Games creates playful activities for families to learn about energy consumption in homes. Through this project we have developed a board game called Turn Up the Heat! designed to help parents and children think about tradeoffs related to comfort, energy, and the environmental sustainability.

Grant: NSF IIS-1123574

Build-a-Tree is a multi-level puzzle game designed to help people learn about evolution and phylogenetic trees. Through game play people can learn about relationships between different organisms as well as the traits that help define those relationships. Build-a-Tree is on display at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Grant: NSF DRL-1010889

Roberto is a computational literacy stickerbook. The design combines a physical children's storybook with embedded sticker activities. Chains of stickers form simple computer programs that control an digital version of Roberto animated on a smartphone or tablet computer.

DeepTree is a multi-touch museum exhibit that visualizes the evolutionary history of all of life on earth. Containing over 70,000 species, DeepTree allows people to fly through a vast tree of life starting 3.5 billion years ago. Any two species in the tree can be compared to understand the key evolutionary landmarks that define their relationship.

Grant: NSF DRL-1010889

Fishing with Friends is a multiplayer game about the consequences of overfishing. Players compete to earn money by catching fish, as the game progresses overzealous fishing results in damage to a simulated ocean ecosystem. The game is designed to illustrate an example of a tragedy of the commons situation and challenge players to devise sustainable strategies to preserve shared ocean resources.

Frog Pond is an interactive exhibit that we are developing in partnership with the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. The exhibit features an interactive tabletop with a graphical computer programming language. Visitors create simple computer programs to control the actions of many colorful frogs that hop around a lily pond.

Robot Park is an exhibit on robotics and computer programming at the Museum of Science, Boston. Robot Park was launched in 2007 and features the Tern tangible programming language. Visitors create simple computer programs using chains of wooden blocks that control the actions of an iRobot Create.

Grant: NSF IIS-0414389

Spark is an interactive learning environment in which users interact with electrical circuits at two levels. Users can create and test a variety of circuits and simultaneously inspect agent-based computational models of circuit components. These models show interactions between electrons and ions as they move through circuit components.

BioMap is an interactive visualization of all of life on earth. BioMap uses a Voronoi Treemap algorithm to organize hundreds of thousands of species into nested clades. Users can drill down into nested levels to learn more about the diversity of life on earth.

NetTango is an agent-based modeling environment designed to support code first learning activities. NetTango is based on the popular agent-based modeling environment, NetLogo. The NetTango project seeks to broaden the accessibility and use of NetLogo for a younger audience.

Grant: NSF DRL-1109834

This research focuses on the development of educational material for children in waiting areas at clinics for Sickle Cell Disease treatment. We have developed a variety of educational material including a augmented reality of hemoglobin structure inside red blood cells, a virtual model of blood flow, and an oversized tangible replica of a blood vessel.

The TopCode computer vision library is designed to quickly and easily identify and track tangible objects on a flat surface. Just tag any physical object with a TopCode (a circular black and white symbol) and the system will return an ID number, the location of the tag, the angular orientation of the tag, and the diameter of the tag.

Grant: None

Recent News

June 2015 — Mike Horn received an NSF CAREER award to study computational literacy in informal learning environments. The project will study existing cultural forms of literacy with the goal of broaden participation in computation. Read More
PBS NOVA Labs Launched!
May 2015 — Our Build-a-Tree and DeepTree exhibits are now featured as part of a PBS NOVA Lab on evolution. Read More
Best Paper Award (CHI 2015)
March 2015 — Our Fluid Grouping paper was just awarded Best Paper at ACM CHI 2015 in Seoul, Korea.
PBS NOVA blog post
July 2014 — Our Life on Earth exhibits were featured in a PBS NOVA blog post by Ralph Bouquet: "imagine doing a family tree project that took into account all the biodiversity and history of 3.5 billion years of life..." Read More
Best Paper Award (IDC 2014)
June 2014 — Zeina Atrash Leong's paper, Waiting for Learning, was awarded Best Full Paper at the 2014 Interaction Design and Children Conference in Aarhus, Denmark. Congratulations, Zeina!
Best Short Paper Award (IDC 2014)
June 2014 — Our Frog Pond Evolution paper was awarded Best Short Paper at the Interaction Design and Children Conference (IDC 2014) in Aarhus, Denmark. Congratulations, team!
Games, Learning, and Society Showcase Award (GLS 2014)
June 2014 — Our Green Home Games project, Turn Up the Heat, just won the 2nd Place Showcase Award at the 2014 Games, Learning, and Society Conference in Madison, Wisconsin.
New York Times: Very Young Programmers
September 2013 — Mike's work on Tangible Programming in the DevTech group at Tufts University was mentioned in the New York Times Science Section. Read More
Best Design Paper Award (CSCL 2013)
June 2013 — Our Going Deep paper was just awarded Best Design Paper at the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Conference (CSCL'13) conference in Madison, Wisconsin. Congratulations, team!
Life on Earth Exhibits Launch!
April 2013 — Our Life on Earth exhibits have launched at the California Academy of Sciences and the Field Museum Read More

Affiliated Research Labs

Center for Connected Learning and Computer-Based Modeling (CCL)
Scientists' Discovery Room (SDR) Lab
Harvard University
Learning, Interaction, and Media in the Everyday (LIME)
Northwestern University
The Collaborative Technology Laboratory (CollabLab)
Northwestern University
Delta Lab
Northwestern University
Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP)
Northwestern University

Museum Collaborators