A virtual spacecraft simulator game as part of a creative coding workshop captured students’ interest during National Science Week on 16 August.

Dr Angelo Fraietta, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Interactive Media Lab at UNSW Art & Design hosted the workshop in collaboration with Shane Hengst, Community & Engagement Officer from the UNSW Science Faculty.

Dr Fraietta specialises in the development of interactive software and hardware devices for artistic, academic and industrial use. He developed a virtual spacecraft simulator game, where the goal for the player is to navigate their way to various planetary objects in the sky with a ‘sonified Raspberry Pi’.

“Research has shown that by implementing games, problems with code can be quickly identified and code refined,” Dr Fraietta said.

Jamison High School, Knox Grammar and St Paul’s College students were invited to learn how to program with ‘HappyBrackets’, a Java-based creative coding tool kit, led and developed by Dr Fraietta.

They learnt how to obtain astronomical data from scientific catalogues and use this data to algorithmically generate sound or music.

“In the virtual spacecraft simulator game players can navigate themselves to the moon and planets, and see Jupiter’s moons or Saturn’s rings up close,” Dr Fraietta said.  

“When I told them that they could look up that night with a pair of ordinary binoculars and see four of Jupiter’s moons, they were inspired to start looking at the sky,” he added.

The Coding a Virtual Spacecraft in HappyBrackets workshop sprang from a collaboration with Dr Oliver Bown at a Powerhouse Museum exhibition, where students learned to creatively code their own musical instruments with HappyBrackets as part of the Spiral and the Mechanical Music Factory exhibition.

As well as National Science Week, the Coding a Virtual Spacecraft in HappyBrackets was also part of the 2019 Sydney Science Festival as a popular way to enable students to look at how they can easily write code to control the planetarium software and simulate controlling a spacecraft.

“Apart from being fun, they can learn about avionics concepts, like Yaw, Pitch and Roll in a spacecraft, accelerometers, and then how to combine these with controlling music and sound,” he added.

During the UNSW National Science Week workshop there was also an opportunity to generate a personal mobile phone ringtone based on the stars present in the sky at the time and location of their birth.

“I hope they walked away from these workshops feeling that creative coding can be a really good way to map out thoughts and ideas,” Dr Fraietta said.

Jamison High School Design and Industrial Arts head teacher Vaughn Littlejohns said the workshop was a great way for his class to get an introduction to coding in an interactive environment.

“It was great to see my students engaging with the hands-on, educational session, and to see them tapping into the world of coding and programming,” he said.   

Year 11 Design and Technology student Connor Burke found the experience to be inspiring and practical for developing a programming career. 

“Coding is such an important skill and this workshop has helped improve my coding knowledge which will not only assist with school projects but may just land me my future dream job in an architecture firm,” Connor said.   

The Coding a Virtual Spacecraft in HappyBrackets formed part of National Science Week program hosted by UNSW Sydney from 10-18 August.