cosmOcosm Presents Sound Planetarium at the USA Science and Engineering Festival

The cosmOcosm team was invited by the NSF to present their Sound Planetarium system at the 2018 USA Science and Engineering Festival. Known as the “National Science Fair”, this festival features science and science education from across the nation in areas ranging from astronomy to zoology. The NSF invited cosmOcosm directors Adam Burgasser and Tara Knight to bring their demonstration to the Festival to highlight some of the science outreach and exploration activities funded by the NSF.

cosmOcosm brought three demonstrations for the Festival: our Sound Planetarium, our Personal Sound Planetarium and our Virtual Sound Planetarium. All three are experiments in spatial sonification, transforming data in to sound that is located in space.

Our first Sound Planetarium demonstration consists of 6 speakers and software to produce spatialized sound, which allows us to “spatially sonify” astronomical data. In this demonstration, we sonified the 10 brightest stars in the sky, mapping properties such as color, brightness, and spectral type to tone, volume, and vibration (timbre). We spatialized the sound to a rotating system, allowing the “stars” to rise in the East and set in the West at a fast enough pace to detect. We also had a second demonstration that sonified gravitational wave bursts (and background noise) as detected by LIGO, with the help of Marc Favata’s “Sounds of Spacetime” site (

Yuka Murakami describing the Sound Planetarium to a family of Festival participants.

Our second demonstration was a Personal Sound Planetarium that allows the use to experience the spatially sonified data through headphones, which makes it somewhat easier to hear and place the sounds. This is similar to the sound effects you hear in some music where instruments or singers are placed at different locations, but in this case those locations and sounds are based on stellar data.

Tara Knight inquiring what a participant is hearing in the Personal Sound Planetarium

Our third demonstration was a Virtual Sound Planetarium that allows the user to explore the night sky while virtually floating in space. This included sonification of stars when the user looks at them. This can be a little disorienting! But it reminds us that space is not just “up” but all around us.

Adylan Fyhrie describing what participants are about to experience in the Virtual Sound Planetarium
A Festival participant getting her bearing in the Virtual Sound Planetarium
Kevin Sweet keeping an eye on a Virtual Sound Planetarium participant while he explores the space around him.

The Sound Planetarium project was developed to force us to think about how we explore the Universe in different ways. In astronomy, we are highly biased toward our visual senses (“let’s see the data”, “what a beautiful image”), yet many astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts are blind. More importantly, much of the information we gather from space comes in non-visible forms – radio, infrared and X-ray radiation, cosmic rays, and gravitational waves are key examples – so “visualization” is a choice. The sonification movement has enabled all of us to re-think our approach to scientific information and how we can analyze ever more complex datasets.

The cosmOcosm Sound Planetarium project is a collaboration of University of Colorado Boulder and UC San Diego and, with PIs Tara Knight and Adam Burgasser. Much of the development has been achieved through our student team of Kevin Sweet, Yuka Murakami, Adylan Fyhrie, Jake Cushnir and Melisa Tallis. The work has been funded by the NSF and the UCSD Frontiers of Innovation Scholars Program.

UCSD Hosts 2016 SoCal Physics Graduate Admissions Bootcamp

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UCSD hosted the 2016 SoCal Physics Graduate Admissions Bootcamp this year at on August 13-14, 2016. The two-day intensive workshop, developed by members of the California Professoriate for Access to Physics Careers (CPAPC) and organized this year by Adam Burgasser and members of the Cool Star Lab,  is designed to help students, particularly those from underrepresented minority groups, plan for application to Physics graduate programs. This includes strategies for choosing programs, how to produce the best application, and how to succeed in the Physics GRE Subject Exam. Bootcamps are held in Southern and Northern California each year.

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Cool Stars Lab shines in 2016 Summer Research Conference

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The Cool Star Lab had a strong showing at this year’s 2016 UCSD Summer Research Conference, held August 11th around campus.  Ten students from the Lab presented results during the full day event, including six in Session #1 alone!

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Cool Star Grads Share Advice & Experience at Cal-Bridge Workshop

On Saturday May 21st, UC San Diego and the Cool Star Lab hosted students participating in the Cal-Bridge program for a Workshop titled “What is Graduate School?” The purpose of the workshop was to introduce students the idea of graduate school and why graduate study (Master’s or PhD) might be an good option for future career aspirations.

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Christian Aganze awarded AAS FAMOUS grant for 2016 National Conference

Christian Aganze (Morehouse ’16) who participated in the 2014 and 2015 programs, has been awarded an American Astronomical Society (AAS) Funds for Astronomical Meetings: Outreach to Underrepresented Scientists (FAMOUS) grant. The grant provides up to $1000 for travel, meals & lodging for participation in the January 2016 AAS meeting  in Kissimmee, Florida. Christian will be presenting his work searching for distant brown dwarfs in the HST WFC3 Infrared Spectroscopic Parallels Survey (WISPS).

Congratulations Christian!