External Advisory Board Members

Dr Nicolas Bonne

Dr Nicolas Bonne

Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, University of Portsmouth / Special Advisor to IDATA

I’m a vision impaired astronomer and outreach and public engagement officer. I currently lead the Tactile Universe public engagement project, which is developing resources to help vision impaired people learn about current topics in astronomy. Originally from Australia, I’m a vision impaired astronomer and a Public Engagement and Outreach Fellow at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. I currently lead the STFC funded Tactile Universe public engagement project (www.tactileuniverse.org), which is developing free multi-sensory resources to help blind and vision imapired people engage with current topics in astronomy. I also help others both nationally and internationally find ways to communicate science in more accessible ways. I joined the ICG in 2014 as a visiting scholar while finishing the last few months of my PhD research which I began at Monash University in Australia. After completing my PhD, and an Endeavour Fellowship research project in the department, I was employed as an outreach officer. My current work and interests involve exploring multi-sensory techniques for communicating ideas in current astronomy research. Though this is aimed at helping blind and vision impaired people access topics in astronomy that are traditionally presented in visual formats, I firmly believe that improved accessibility helps everybody. This work is currently jointly funded by a Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Nucleus Award and by the University of Portsmouth. My astronomy research background is in galaxy evolution and galaxy formation, specifically the study of large galaxy populations through the calculation and analysis of luminosity functions. Nic is working closely with IDATA team, in particular the educator leads at Yerkes Observatory and GLAS Education, to make IDATA a success.

Al Harper

Al Harper

Professor - Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics - University of Chicago

Dr. Al Harper’s research deals with problems of formation of galaxies, stars, and planetary systems, physics of the interstellar medium, and properties of interstellar dust. His experimental research group constructs and operates infrared instrumentation. He helped pioneer astronomical research on airborne telescopes, and at the South Pole. His group is currently constructing the facility far infrared camera for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Far Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).

Sue Ann Heatherly

Sue Ann Heatherly

Senior Education Officer – National Radio Astronomy Observatory – Green Bank

Sue Ann Heatherly is the Senior Education Officer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory based in Green Bank, WV. She has held that post since 1989, engaging teachers and students in real-world scientific research experiences, and sharing the excitement of scientific discovery with the public. Since her tenure began at the observatory she has secured several grants from the NSF, NASA and the state of West Virginia which have resulted in professional development programs for teachers, residential camps for youth, and opportunities for teachers and students to work together with professional scientists to conduct world class research using data collected with the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.

Russ Laher

Russ Laher

California Institute of Technology - Pasadena

I am a member of the professional staff at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, where I have worked since 1997. I grew up in Wyoming in the 1960s and 70s, and began an intense interest in computer programming in my early teens. I attended Utah State University in Logan, UT, earning B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics with minors in geology and mathematics (1979-1987). 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. Luisa Rebull

Dr. Luisa Rebull

CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

I am a member of the professional staff at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, where I have worked since 1997. I grew up in Wyoming in the 1960s and 70s, and began an intense interest in computer programming in my early teens. I attended Utah State University in Logan, UT, earning B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics with minors in geology and mathematics (1979-1987). 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.

Ed Summers

Ed Summers

SAS AND THE NORTH CAROLINA COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND

Ed Summers is a blind software engineer and an accessibility specialist. He has a B.S. in Computer Science and more than 20 years of professional experience as a software developer and a development manager. Ed’s personal mission is to enable people with disabilities to realize their full potential in the classroom and the 21st century knowledge economy. He fulfills that mission as a leader in the software industry and disability-related not-for-profit organizations. 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.

Dr. Kathryn Williamson

Dr. Kathryn Williamson

WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY

Kathryn Williamson grew up in Georgia and got her undergraduate degree in Physics & Astronomy before moving to Montana State University for graduate school. She worked as the Public Education Specialist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV, for 3 years, before joining the West Virginia University Department of Physics in January 2016. She has engaged students and teachers in inquiry-based astronomy investigations using radio telescopes both in-person and online, and she collaborates on projects such as Skynet Junior Scholars and the Pulsar Search Collaboratory. Her current area of research focuses on how youth in out-of-school-time science clubs learn to see themselves as scientists and choose to pursue careers in science.

Dr. Wanda Diaz Merced

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.

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