NASA's Nemo-Net Creators Visit 4th Grade STEM
Fourth graders tested Nemo-Net, a game developed by NASA's Ames Lab to help scientists identify and label coral reefs.
Last month our 4th graders had the opportunity in STEM class to connect their current study of coral reef ecosystems, their interest in games, and research currently underway at NASA’s Ames Research Center. This project reflects the merger of many worlds and highlights our school’s approach to technology: using the right tool for the right moment.
Last fall, while working at the Bay Area Science Festival, Lower School STEM teacher Jessica Boualavong met Jarrett Van Den Bergh and Alan Li, game designers and engineers working at the NASA Ames Laboratory. They were showcasing a prototype of their new game, Nemo-Net, which displays real data scans from coral reefs, collected by drones (flying over water) and underwater cameras (captured by divers). With these scans, they created 3D visuals of coral reefs, and then tasked players with identifying different types of coral and monitoring the growth and decline of coral reefs. The game asks users to think like citizen scientists to help train an AI to correctly identify coral, hoping to one day use this technology in NASA satellites that scan our Earth, and maybe other planets as well.
In January, Jarrett and Alan came to Town School to share their game and process with our 4th graders. They showed how NASA created a program to remove the optical distortion of water from drone scans, revealing the coral beneath. They revealed the prototyping process of game development from using a lasso tool to indicate coral to the more user-friendly coloring method. Our 4th grade students were also interested in seeing the code, built using the Unity game engine, to explore how variables changed the gameplay and how to fix bugs in the program.
With our 40+ 4th graders testing Nemo-Net during their visit, we identified several bugs and provided valuable feedback about ease of use and replayability. Jarrett, Alan, and their team have already made updates to their program based on our students’ feedback, and hope to launch this citizen scientist game in the app store later this year. We are fortunate to be able to participate in this learning experience, to see scientists and gamers explain the iteration process to our students, and to be able to harness the boys’ enthusiasm to further a scientific cause.