terreforming mars vr screenshot

Terraforming Mars

Project Details

Project Year: 2018-2019

Project Type: Collaboratory


Vahe Peroomian, Physics & Astronomy
Dana Milstein, Writing Program

Innovation Scholars

Huiyeon Eim, Environmental Studies, Informatics with Honors in Multimedia Scholarship
Emily Liu, English; Political Economy; Environmental Studies; Computer and Digital Forensics Emily
Angel-Emilio Villegas Sanchez, Physics; Philosophy
Abhishek Sharma, Biology; Consumer Behavior
Cole Schroeder, Computer Science
Elisabeth Vehling, Informatics, Cognitive Science

Outside Advisors

Erik Loyer, Creative Technologist

Special Guests

Greg Autry, Assistant Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship, Marshall, USC
Brian Cantrell, World Building Media Lab, USC
Kevin Gill, NASA/JPL

The Collaboratory

Terraforming Mars Collaboratory
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Mars and its potential habitability have intrigued humanity for centuries.  Since 1965, when the Mariner 4 spacecraft found Mars to be a lifeless, barren world, our imagination has taken a new turn--that of terraforming Mars and making it habitable for humans.  Students in this collaboratory were guided through a multidisciplinary approach to the problem of terraforming: they reviewed scientific and science fiction literature, built self-contained ecosystems in which plants were grown in simulated Martian soil, attended active learning sessions about Mars, and used fishbowl discussions and worldbuilding tools to visually explore possibilities of a terraformed Mars of their own design. Students also explored the social, political, geological, and environmental impacts of a terraformed Mars.

The Outcomes 

Terraforming Mars Collaboratory
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Terraforming Mars VR

Students worked with Brian Cantrell from USC’s World Building Media Lab to research, speculate, and sketch out future aspects of a terraformed Mars, ranging from infrastructural and energy needs to the cultural and social makeup of early settlers. Students then worked with Ahmanson Lab staff and Erik Loyer, an award-winning creative technologist, to build out an annotated virtual reality experience of their speculative world. See more about Terraforming Mars VR on our digital projects page

Ecosystems + Scientific Posters

Students worked in two teams to simulate how plants thrive in Martian soil Using a three-chamber ecosystem with digital sensors to capture environmental elements (i.e., oxygen levels). They recorded sensor data and visual observations in their lab notebooks over an 8-week period. The project culminated in a peer-reviewed academic paper and scientific poster that each team presented as part of a mock academic conference. Learning objectives included team building, understanding the ethics of scientific research, interpreting and visualizing data, and designing and presenting scholarly materials.