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Aaleyah Lewis explores VR to teach about climate change

Lewis participated virtually in Stanford School of Engineering’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program.
Aaleyah Lewis

Aaleyah Lewis first became interested in science when her father gave her a childhood toolbox, and she still counts the aroma of fresh-sawn wood as among her favorite smells.

A computer science student minoring in psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Lewis took part in the 2020 Stanford Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, where she studied cutting-edge virtual reality in communication professor Jeremy Bailenson’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL).

Her SURF project was to explore the use of virtual reality as an educational tool to teach about climate change, particularly ocean acidification, which threatens the calcium carbonate shells and exoskeletons of countless marine species, from clams to coral. The premise: If people can see the damage that ocean acidification causes in vivid detail and three dimensions, they will better understand the impact of climate change.

“I got to hone my technical skills in computer science with a bit of psychology wrapped in there, while working on an important topic,” Lewis says.

In addition to spurring her long-term plans to attend graduate school, Lewis, a senior and a member of the McNair Scholars Program at UMBC, said the SURF program has furthered her desire to help inspire younger scholars to become interested in research and graduate-level studies.

“I will obtain my PhD in computer science and dedicate my research to produce more inclusive and accessible technologies and encourage greater diversity in research and the sciences,” Lewis says. “SURF has helped me make that vision possible.”