Still riding the wave from the developments of relativity and quantum mechanics at the turn of the 20th century, the field of physics currently enjoys an unprecedented period of growth in nearly all respects. Regrettably, physics education remains reminiscent of a century long past. Equations on blackboards remain dis-proportionally prevalent compared to personal, interactive, hands-on learning experiences. For some topics, this was inevitable; for instance, bringing something to a significant fraction of the speed of light in a laboratory setting in the interest of experiencing relativity is prohibitively difficult and comes with dire consequences.
With the recent advent of affordable, quality VR and AR technologies, physics education need no longer be constrained by the inconvenient laws of our own universe. Thus, through this project we seek to create a more convenient micro-verse in which to experience and learn about electromagnetism in an intuitive and interactive way, with as much control over our experiments as we could possibly want. Further, we seek to make this traditionally arcane topic approachable to all audiences by framing the development of electromagnetism in a story designed to fulfill every physics student's dream: As your understanding of physics grows, so does your control over it.
What it does
Physics Not Included, contrary to the name, accurately simulates many elements of physics not found in game engines. In its Sandbox Mode, players will be able to place and configure electric charges, magnetic dipoles, fixed linear and circular electric and magnetic fields, solenoidal magnetic fields, magnetizable materials, and even magnetic monopoles. All of these objects behave in kind with their real-world counterparts, aside from a user-friendly but physically self-consistent re-scaling of constants associated with various electromagnetic interactions. That, and the ability to stop time to wander around the scene, configuring complex experiments before setting them loose and watching the spectacle.
The currently-available build regrettably only allows the player to place magnetic and electric monopoles and magnetic dipoles. All other mentioned features are implemented in the physics engine, but there was insufficient time to make them accessible to the user.
How we built it
The project is based upon a Magnetodynamics package built for Unity some time ago by physicist Jim Pivarski. We have also made use of UVFX and Amplify Shader Studio of the Unity Asset Store in this project. Its development was aided dramatically by the unique talents and contributions of everyone on the team: Zach Whitechurch - 3D Art, UI Design Jared Canright - Physics & Interaction Programming Joshua Yang - Interaction Programming Daniel Suh - Narrative Design Simon Smith - Sound Design Peter Mosher - Visualization & Sound Programming
Challenges we ran into
Surprisingly, implementing the remaining physics not covered by Magnetodynamics was relatively effortless. More surprisingly, figuring out how to convince Unity's UI navigation system to take input from a Vive controller was a 10-hour endeavor. Further, we found that it was difficult to partition coding tasks effectively; as interdependent as most code in the project was, we ended up with a major coding bottleneck.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We developed a powerful framework for future development of the project. With ~8 more hours' work, we would have achieved most of our goals. Each of us took advantage of the opporuntity to improve our respective skills dramatically, in such a way that few other occasions facilitate. Regardless of how well we managed to meet our own expectations, we are happy to have had the opportunity to participate in the Hackathon.
What we learned
For coders with a somewhat ambitious project, it's extremely important to have fundamental elements of VR development (e.g. user interfaces, teleportation) down pat well before an event like this; we lost a tremendous amount of valuable time to elements which would have been trivial to a better-prepared coder.
What's next for Physics Not Included
As it pertains strongly to Jared's research, Jared will continue development of Physics Not Included beyond the hackathon, aiming to turn it into what we set out to make this weekend.