Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced
International Astronomical Union / Friend of the Project
Wanda Diaz Merced is from Gurabo, Puerto Rico. She has a multidisciplinary PhD from the University of Glasgow in Scotland where she researched the use of sound as a perceptual tool while analyzing diversity in astrophysics data sets. As a blind physicist, Diaz-Merced conducted research on using multimodal perception using ERP and behavioral psychology to investigate how attention mechanisms and coping strategies influence the analysis of ambiguous astrophysics data. Diaz-Merced's current emphasis is on attention modulation, the prevention of cognitive overload, functional analysis, automaticity when analyzing space physics data. She has developed multimodal perception techniques to analyze radio, x-ray, gamma ray, and magnetic fluctuation data from a constellation of satellites. Her techniques tested efficient ways to find events that otherwise had been ignored.
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.