If intelligent life without sight were to exist on some distant planet in our galaxy, these lifeforms would still explore the universe; how? This is a guiding question for Innovators Developing Accessible Tools for Astronomy (IDATA).
IDATA is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and brings together blind and visually impaired (BVI) and sighted high school students and their teachers to create a fully accessible astronomy data request, retrieval and analysis software tool. Students and teachers will collaborate with astronomy and computing science professionals, and educators and education researchers in the design and development of the software as well as learning modules and tutorials that help students explore the role of computation in astronomy. The project team utilizes user-centered design/universal designing (UCD/UD) processes and the iterative method for the development and testing of software and the modules: improving access to our amazing universe for those with BVI related disabilities. Teachers and students who fully participate in IDATA will be considered co-developers in the project, and their contribution will be recognized in the dissemination of IDATA final products.
Education Research: IDATA is a NSF STEM+C project, and will work to advance knowledge and understanding of best practices in teaching and learning related to computation and computational thinking in astronomy and how participation influences students’ attitudes and beliefs about who can engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and computing. The accessible software and instructional modules and tutorials produced by the project may be adopted by a range of BVI and sighted individuals, but may also be transferrable to other similarly visually-intensive domains such as satellite, geophysical, and medical imaging.
Check out IDATA in the news - “Making Astronomy Accessible to the Blind – Students Partner with Professionals to Build New Software Tool”
IDATA's Andreas Stefik is featured here in a video about the Quorum programming language.
I’m not a teacher, how can I participate in IDATA? In addition to educators and students there will be other opportunities to participate in the project. The IDATA team, including participating students and teachers, will be hosting Google Hangouts, Reddit sessions, etc. to assess the needs of the user community and to field test pieces of the software as they are developed. We will be reaching out to the broader community throughout this process. If you are interested in participating, or just want to stay up to date with news about the project, please join the IDATA interest group; CLICK HERE: IDATA Interest Form
IDATA Leadership Team
(in alphabetical order)
IDATA External Advisory Board Members
Ed is a Distinguished Technical Leader and Senior Manager of Accessibility at SAS, the market leader in business analytics software and services that is used at more than 80,000 sites around the world. The SAS accessibility team enables users of all abilities to access the power of analytics. Ed also serves as the Chair of the North Carolina State Board of Education Advisory Council for the Governor Morehead School for the Blind.
As a USU Getaway Special Principal Investigator, I designed and built an autonomous scientific experimental apparatus to measure the thermal conductivity of an oil/water mixture, which flew on the fourth NASA Space Shuttle mission. My first job after college involved spectroscopic studies of air bombarded by nuclear-weapon explosions. Later, I worked on artificial neural networks for target detection. I earned an MBA from Pepperdine University in 2006 while working full time. I developed a user-friendly software package for astronomers and students of astronomy, called Aperture Photometry Tool (APT), over almost a decade (aperturephotometry.org), which is used worldwide and has been downloaded more than 15,000 times. I was a key software engineer for processing images from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and more recently for the Palomar Transient Factory. I am currently developing software for processing the unprecedented massive data volume expected from the Zwicky Transient Facility in 2017 and beyond. I have authored or coauthored more than 100 scientific and engineering papers in various peer-reviewed journals, including Physical Review and Nature. I have made numerous trips to Japan and Europe, and I maintain an active and outdoors lifestyle.
Dr. Diaz Merced is collaborating with Dr. Margarita Karovska in using sound to analyze spectral variability in the symbiotic system CH-Cygni, and she has been able to identify periodicities in high granularity in space data generated by this symbiotic system. Dr. Diaz-Merced is applying the perception techniques she developed to aurally decompose the data into its different frequency components. She used sound to identify periods of pulsating stars like CH Cygni, which is a cataclysmic variable X-ray source. The analysis of error determined that the events identified by Dr. Diaz Merced do exist.
Dr. Diaz Merced is co-chair of the National Society of Black Physicists multimodal accessibility project, is a member of The American Astronomical Society Working Group on Disability and Accessibility, and coordinates the global project Astrosense which encourages and facilitates traditional and disabled learners in doing research in astronomy. She has taken a post doctoral position at the Office of Astronomy for Development in South Africa where she will be working with students and teachers from the Athlone School for the Blind in South Africa to develop lessons that engage students in astronomy. As part of this project, students from the school will be hosting local radio broadcasts of the solar weather report for the day. Dr. Diaz-Merced's research seeks to measure the impact of hands-on science and astronomy lessons on these students' interest in taking math and science classes. Currently, few of these students take math or science beyond the seventh grade.
When she is not in South Africa, Dr. Diaz Merced will be working from Yerkes Observatory as Project Scientist for IDATA. She will lead the user-centered, universal design process with teams of sighted and BVI students and will supervise graduate students' assistance. She will also, of course, continue to lend her expertise in sonification to our goal of providing new and innovative ways to present astronomical data in multimodal ways.