Virtual Reality Project for University Honors Students

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The Department of Physics and Astronomy is offering funding opportunities for a University Honors student. The project is jointly coordinated by the Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Department of Music, and the Sweeney Center for Media Studies at UC Riverside. Students from CHASS, CNAS, and BCOE, are welcome to apply. The project follows previous successful joint projects between the sciences and the arts at UCR.

The student will develop a virtual reality (VR) visualization of readily-available astronomical data using the Unreal Engine for a captsone/thesis project. A VR user should be able to spatially move through and interact with the astronomical data when the project is complete.

The end-product is geared to create a multi-sensory experience of astronomical data, aimed at the general public but sensitive to requirements of people with physical disabilities. A team of faculty members with backgrounds in astronomy, multimedia studies, music, and science education will provide mentoring for the project.


  • University Honors student
  • 3rd or 4th year
  • Undertake this project as his/her thesis/capstone project
  • Preferably some experience in working with the Unreal Engine (the Unity Engine is also acceptable); not required
  • Commit a minimum of 4 hours per week to the project
  • Majoring in either CHASS, CNAS or BCOE
  • Not currently receiving payment from UCR’s payroll office (teaching/lab assistants, etc.)
    • Students receiving financial-aid are eligible



Multimedia / Music

Science Education

  • Dr. Mario De Leo-Winkler


A stipend of $1,500 is available for the student upon completion of the project.
An additional $500 are available to acquire equipment.

The Sweeney Center for Media Studies and the Department of Physics and Astronomy have:

  • 3 virtual reality headsets (Oculus & Vive systems)
  • software to develop virtual reality programs
  • astronomical data from super-computer simulations
  • experience in software development


All interested students must present an email where they:

  • Express their motiviation to participate in the project
  • Describe any previous experience creating content with the Unreal Engine, Unity Engine, or programing, if any
  • Display samples of their previous work

The email should be sent to Dr. Mario De Leo ( with the subject “Honors Thesis Project.”


This project will continue to be expanded and developed by future students at UC Riverside.
All materials will be produced under the Creative Commons 4.0 License, making it freely available to interested parties.


Prof. Gillian Wilson and Prof. Laura Sales (Physics and Astronomy) are providing resources through the National Science Foundation AST-1517863 and startup UC Riverside funds. Prof. Bahram Mobasher (Physics and Astronomy) is providing funding for Dr. Mario De Leo through the NASA FIELDS Program on big data and visualization. Virtual reality equipment was kindly provided by Michael Pazzani, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at UC Riverside.

Image credit: Cubical Ninjas