Tarsier Goggles

VR tool for science education

Applying my own curricula in evolutionary ecology and optics, I realized that students’ understanding of natural selection was limited to diagrams, slideshows, and models. Partnering with DALI Lab, Dartmouth’s design group, I used virtual reality to break this barrier of understanding and immerse users in what a primate with extreme visual traits might see.

Open access publication available here.

Open source software available here.


Spring 2017 – Fall 2018

Collaboration: DALI Lab (Naman Goyal, Kristie Chow, Benjamin Cooper, Lauren Gray, Stephanie Guo, Kylie Alexis Hill, Stephen Liao, Shiyao Peng, Alma Wang, Andy Yoon, Shirley Zheng), Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences, Marilyn Lord, and Nathaniel J Dominy

Roles: idea, design, research, outreach, demos, user testing, and writing

“It’s not just speculating. It’s actually having it in front of my eyes.”

“We all think we are seeing what everyone else sees, but in fact we are all seeing something different. I feel connected to animals in a way I haven’t been before.”

Teaching with natural principles

Tarsius bancanus, the Bornean tarsier, is a tennis-ball sized nocturnal primate with the largest eyes per body size of any known vertebrate. Having eyes the size of the brain might be an adaptation for vision in dim light, increasing visual sensitivity by maximizing the probability of capturing light on the retina. How might we simulate the experience of those optics and gain some understanding of the tangible effects of adaptation? Tarsier Goggles is a tool for science education, personally engaging students in hands-on scientific concepts in physics, perceptual science, and biology.

David Haring

Heinrich Sprankel

An altered perspective

From what we understand about tarsier eye anatomy, we believe there are several key differences in vision between humans (left) and Bornean tarsiers (right) which would be the focus of the Tarsier Goggles user experience. Evidence supports that tarsiers have:



brighter images

progressive depth of field

red-green colorblindness (protanopia)

Virtual exploration

Virtual reality offers an immersive experience for understanding the visual effects of the tarsier's adaptations. Specific virtual learning environments each emphasize the differences image brightness, depth of field, and color blindness between humans and tarsiers.

Virtual environments

By toggling between human (top) and tarsier (bottom) visions, users can understand different ways of perceiving specific environments. Left to right: entry space for initial setup; "Matrix," a complex three dimensional space meant to demonstrate differences in depth perception and color vision; "Labyrinth," a maze-like space to demonstrate differences in visual sensitivity while navigating a dark environment; and "Bornean Rainforest," a more applied space for naturalistic exploration.

Constructivist approach

In the spirit of constructivist learning pedagogies, we curated the virtual experience to be exploratory and self-motivated, rather than dictated and rote, so that students can build their own understandings of the scientific concepts at hand. User testing with high school students showed us that this approach makes for an internalized and reflective learning experience. The study developed into our publication about the system's utility in education.


We demonstrated Tarsier Goggles around the nation at school technology exhibitions, a natural history museum, and a gathering of a prominent anthropological society. Users of various age groups and science backgrounds experienced the system in different ways, revealing the versatility and subjective appreciation that can come with a newly opened connection to another worldview.

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