Maria C. R. Harrington Ph.D. is an American information scientist and artist. Research focus is on aesthetics in the perceptual ambient array and information science theory as it relates to reality and beauty found in natural environments using augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), GIS simulations, and new media art to explore the phenomena of human reactions. Such tools are used to investigate human interaction of real-virtual environments and impacts on perception, learning, health, and creativity. Such systems influence scientific, human, social, and cultural transformations. She is currently an assistant professor at the University of Central Florida, director of The Harrington Lab, and has consulted on projects using AR and VR with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

The Harrington Lab at UCF investigates virtual nature, using AR and VR as a technical artifact, to better understand perceptual phenomenon as it relates to human-computing-environment interactions that cause emotional, learning, and aesthetic outcomes. The lab is highly collaborative with several active multidisciplinary partnerships. Efforts focus on extending prior work in the development of Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE) used for research and art. The lab is under the direction of Dr. Harrington at the University of Central Florida. Find her publications on Google Scholar and ResearchGate.

She has a Ph.D. in information science from the University of Pittsburgh, and undergraduate degrees in art and economics from Carnegie Mellon University where she studied with computer graphics artist pioneer, Harry Holland.  Her dissertation, “Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE): A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments,” investigated the empirical inter-relationships between humans, computers, and the environment. She designed and developed the virtual reality software system, The Virtual Trillium Trail, and discovered: 1) Real Environments show more learning than Virtual, there is transfer from the Virtual to the Real, and Real to the Virtual, thus indicating that the best educational practice is to use the two environments together. 2) That when the content in the Virtual matches the Real, the learning outcomes are the same. 3) There is significant interaction between Visual Fidelity, as a design factor, and Navigational Freedom, as a design factor, and the combined condition of both High Visual Fidelity and High Navigational Freedom results in far superior Knowledge Gained on tests, thus proving that both of these factors must be present to have the greatest impact on learning.  4) There is no interaction of the two factors for Salient Events, or changes in student behavior from exploration to deep inquiry, and the main effect of Visual Fidelity is a critical software user interface design factor for increased informal learning activity, inquiry in virtual reality educational simulations. It alone, is responsible for significantly increasing learning activity. Navigational Freedom, as a factor, shows a strong trend. This one project resulted in several journal publications, Springer Virtual Reality, IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, and Children, Youth and Environment, as well as papers published and presented at ACM SIGGRAPH, ACM SIGCHI IDC and ACM DIS, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, and the Proceedings of the Conference on Spatial Information Theory.

Her artwork, as both digital media and photographic prints, has been shown, and sold to private collectors, and promises a new genre of digital media art with augmented and virtual reality. Her artwork is an investigation of landscapes, much like the Hudson River School of the past, and Clifford Ross of the present, and explores ideas salient with humans’ connections and responses to the land.


  • Ph.D. in Information Science from University of Pittsburgh (2008)
  • M.S. in Information Science from University of Pittsburgh (1990)
  • B.S. in Economics and Art from Carnegie Mellon University (1988)

Research Interests

  • Art and technology, both AR and VR as an aesthetic medium
  • Virtual nature, in AR and VR as geo-spatial virtual simulations of nature
  • AR and VR, simulations, and human-computer interaction for informal learning and creating
  • Emergent, co-creation activities, and design of technology to support human creativity
  • Perception, emotion, cognition, and active learning as responses to virtual nature and impacts on society and cultural transformations

Recent Research Activities

Her new research direction is to investigate the factors, from an information processing perspective, that drive individuals and societies to create and the role beauty plays in shaping human feelings, thoughts, and action in both art and science. AR and VR, when executed as both works of art and as realistic, simulations, are important as they influence scientific, human, social, and cultural transformations and growth, especially into the new and unknown.

Selected Publications


  • Harrington,  Maria C. R., Tatzgern, M., Langer T, Wenzel, J. W. (2018, under review) Augmented Reality Brings the Real World into Natural History Dioramas with Data Visualizations and Bioacoustics at the Carnegie Museums. Curator: The Museum Journal.
  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2011)Empirical Evidence of Priming, Transfer, Reinforcement, and Learning in the Real and Virtual Trillium Trails. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies 2011 vol.4 Issue No.02 – April-June pp: 175-186 [DOI: | Research Gate | PDF ]
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (June 2012). The Virtual Trillium Trail and the empirical effects of Freedom and Fidelity on discovery-based learning. Virtual Reality, Volume 16, Number 2, Pages 105-120. Original Article published in OnlineFirst™ Springer London. 1-15.  (March 3, 2011) [DOI: 10.1007/s10055-011-0189-7 | Research GatePDF ]
  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2009). An ethnographic comparison of real and virtual reality field trips to Trillium Trail: The salamander find as a Salient Event. In Freier, N.G. & Kahn, P.H. (Eds.), Children, Youth and Environments: Special Issue on Children in Technological Environments, Volume 19 Number 1: Published by: The Board of Regents of the University of Colorado, a body corporate, for the benefit of the Children, Youth and Environments Center at the University of Colorado Boulder
    [Article Stable URL: | HTML | PDF]
  • Dissertation: Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2008).  Simulated Ecological Environments for Education (SEEE): A Tripartite Model Framework of HCI Design Parameters for Situational Learning in Virtual Environments. Dissertation Abstracts International. July 17, 2008. University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. [PDF]

Conference Papers/Presentations

  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2018) “Improving Psychophysical Well-being and Performance in Isolated, Confined, and Extreme Environments with Head Mounted Virtual Reality Photorealistic Simulations of Earth Based Natural Environments,” Abstract and poster presented at the 2018 NASA Human Research Program Investigators’’ Workshop  HRP RESEARCH: THE GATEWAY TO MARS, Galveston, TX.
  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2017) “Ripples in a Pond: How Virtual Reality may be a Tool of Impact for the Humanities.” HASTAC 2017 Conference Abstract and poster, UCF, Orlando, Fl.
  • Portnoy F., Smith, L., Harrington, M.C.R., Kremer, K., Nichols, T., & Zammitto, V. (2011). Facing the Human Factors Challenges in Game Design: A Discussion Panel. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual MeetingSeptember 19-23, 2011, Las Vegas, Nevada. 55(1). 520-524. [ DOI: 10.1177/1071181311551106 | PPT]
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (2011). The Virtual Trillium Trail — An Educational Simulation of the North American Forests. iED Summit IMMERSIVE EDUCATION INITIATIVE BOSTON SUMMIT 2011 May 13-15, 2011, Boston College, Boston, MA.
  • Harrington, Maria C.R. (2009). Meta-ontologies for learning in virtual and augmented realities. Proceedings of the ACM-SIGCHI IDC09. The 8th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children Workshop on Children and Mobile Technology: Interface Development for Mobile Touch Devices. June3-5, 2009. Como, Italy. [Research Gate| PDF ]
  • Harrington, Maria, C. R. (2006).  Situational learning in real and virtual space: Lessons learned and future directions. ACM SIGGRAPH’06. July 30-August 3, 2006 Boston, MA, USA[DOI: 1145/1179295.1179344PDF | PPT ]
  • Harrington, M.C.R. (2006). Trees of life: Models of children’s creative processes. Proceedings of the ACM DIS’06 Doctoral Consortium.June 28, 2006 State College, PA, USA. [DOI: 1145/1142405.1142464 | PDF | PPT]
  • Harrington, M. (2005). Virtual Beechwood: Simulated ecological environments for education. Proceedings of the Conference on Spatial Information Theory’05. Doctoral Consortium Abstracts. September 14-18, 2005 Ellicottville, New York, USA. [ Research Gate| PDF ]


  • Principal Investigator/Artist in Residence, “The Perpetual Garden, a Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Exploration & Investigation of Digital Nature,” 2018
    Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Powdermill Nature Reserve
  • Principal Investigator, “Virtual Field Trips, LLC,” 2013
    Idea Foundry Grant — The Entertainment & Ed Tech Business Accelerator Program
  • Principal Investigator, “Investigation and Evaluation of Virtual Worlds,” 2012
    Faculty Professional Development Council (FPDC) — Professional Development in Support of Collaborative Academic Grants, Round III, PASSHE, Slippery Rock University
  • Co-Principal Investigator, “Soft Skills Trainer – Multimedia Annotation System,” 1991 – 1992
    Rotman School, MBA Program, University of Toronto, IBM Grant for Education and Innovation Award
  • Principal Investigator, “Web-based Framework for Online, Multimedia Course Material,” 1997
    Holyoke Community College , Planning and Innovation Grant



  • Orlando Science Center, Otronicon Advisory Board Member
  • Consultant and Artist in Residence, Powdermill Nature Reserve, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.
  • Board Member, Fox Chapel Parks Commission