The potential in penguins

Have you ever dreamed about learning physics concepts simply by playing with penguins? At ScienceAtHome we believe that students learning through games will become better contributors to citizen science. That’s why we are constantly working on developing and improving games through which users can learn about the theories of physics simply by playing.

The Potential Penguin game is now available for Windows and Mac. Download and try it here!

Game-based education raises the interest of the students and increases interactivity, entertainment, and intuition. It also improves acquisitive, organizational, creative and manipulative skills.

In the Potential Penguin game, you explore and learn the connection between potential and kinetic energy. By changing the landscape you control the potential energy of a penguin and see how this translates to the penguin’s motion—in other words, kinetic energy.

The science behind the game

Potential and kinetic energy – the energies associated with position and movement, respectively – are fundamental concepts in classical physics. Traditionally, when high school students are introduced to potential and kinetic energy, they are presented with the analytical expressions and have to work through a couple of simplified problems. In the learning game, Potential Penguin, the players are introduced to these fundamental concepts and their inter-dependencies through a puzzle game where they can intuitively manipulate the environment and observe the changes.

One of the challenging levels from the Potential Penguin game

The game consists of a penguin, sliding on ice hills. The goal of the game is to slide the penguin with just enough speed to steer it to its desired destination. The player can manipulate the height of hills, thus changing the kinetic and potential energy while the penguin is reaching towards the finish line. As the penguin slides downhill the potential energy is converted into kinetic energy: it gains speed! It applies the other way around as well. If the penguin slides uphill, it loses speed. This way, the players are in full control of the penguin’s movement by correctly manipulating the height of the hills.

While the players are intuitively controlling the environment, science theory is also included. In order to connect classical physics concepts and visualize the more theoretically oriented learning content, the mathematical expressions for the potential and kinetic energy are displayed with dynamically changing font size, reflecting the amount of energy at any given moment.

Research and Penguins

However, a fun way to learn is not the only purpose of the Potential Penguin. ScienceAtHome will use the game to test a new hypothesis:

“Firstly, we are experimenting whether the dynamically displayed mathematical expressions for potential and kinetic energy terms with relative font sizes facilitates the understanding of the concepts, and strengthens the tie to concrete analytical problem-solving.”–says Mads, one of the leading forces behind the game. “Then we would like to prove that understanding these physics concepts can be transferred to Quantum Moves. We have a plan to run an experiment with three groups and compare the results.”

If you are still wondering how did we get from Quantum Moves design to playing with penguins, Mads can explain it pretty well:

“We needed something that slides without rotating. Ice and penguins just came to our mind. This is already a simplified solution because we are counting only the kinetic and potential energy and ignoring many other factors from reality. The history of this game reaches a long time back. We had an early prototype version but it had many bugs which made it impossible to use in practice. However, we got a lot of positive feedback from teachers. It confirmed the need to make this game better. Now a completely new version with a new design is made which is easy to expand with more levels.“

Happy penguin after a completed level

To learn more about the Potential Penguin and other ScienceAtHome projects visit us at the Science in Forum (23-25 April, Copenhagen, Denmark) or check the info on our website.

Also, if you are curious about the old version of Potential Penguin, check out this video! The new Potential Penguin will be available for our players very soon!!

Play Potential Penguin


  • Anton says:

    With a penguin avatar, you really should publish a Linux version.

    • Patricia Zsofia Toth says:

      Hi Anton,
      We are glad for your interest! Surely, our penguin would love to meet the Linux penguin 🙂 However, it is unfortunately not planned at the moment to make the game running on Linux as well. We might look into it in the future. I hope you can try the game on other platforms 🙂
      Patricia from ScienceAtHome


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