Currently viewing the category: "Inspiring Citizen Science"

Recently, I enjoyed the opportunity to solve and implement a simple web interface problem. The result would not be considered profound or unique by Internet professionals, but nonetheless, it certainly is a powerful application of basic web technologies that allow the seamless flow of information making each of our lives richer and more efficient. Most importantly, I started from scratch and figured out how to do it.

The project was to interface with the FAA live feed of current data and status for airports across the United States and take the user’s airport of choice and instantly present the up-to-the-minute information. I developed a short bit of code, mostly with JavaScript, with a very simplified user interface and completed the project over just a few days, which may be previewed online at the DPR Airport Status page.

Now, I will emphasize, once again, that this project was not revolutionary or particularly complex. However, for my personal skills it was an exciting project to learn techniques and scripting technologies that I have not yet had the opportunity to experiment with before. So, for me, it was new. It was interesting.

The development process did not follow a simple trajectory from starting point A to ending point B. Rather, it was a swirling mess of discovery, error-checking, problem solving, more discovery, more problem solving, and even more problem solving. I fell deep into a pool of experimentation and testing without a clear map of what route to follow. I did not know for certain that I would be able to solve the problem within a reasonable time frame or without a more experienced coder handing me the solution. So, my personal morale sank a bit, yet, I tried to stay focused and dedicated to solving the problem on my own.

Then, in a near sudden moment of clarity or luck — or something — my head reached above the surface of the pool and I discovered the one particular bit of code that would solve the problem. It was a rather satisfying moment.

This rather sloppy process which I experienced is not uncommon in the community of research scientists, both professional and amateur, although not necessarily frequently admitted nor acknowledged. It is a process that can be quite debilitating to many, with constant discouragement and setbacks that might cause one to question their own worthiness to be employed in a scientific field. However, it might be this unnerving and irrational path toward discovery that is the very essence of what is required to stumble upon something new in Nature. Recently, Uri Alon of the Weizmann Institute of Science presented an inspiring talk for TED that links the realization of new ideas to the stumbling through a messy path of discovery that he terms “the cloud.”

[ted id=2020]

While one is fumbling around inside this “cloud” of research, the key element is to remain positive and creative. Prof. Alon takes his own experiences from improvisational theatre and music and connects performance tools from these creative arts directly to the creative processes that occurs inside the research cloud. As Dynamic Patterns Research is a proponent of and an active participant in the mixing of science research, education and outreach with the creative arts, the Alon approach of creative cloud scientific research is quite inspiring to our own interests. Even with the simple coding project of creating the Airport Status interface, this experience was a creative opportunity. Here, the developing of the underlying code resulted in a presentation of interactive art: a creative process that other people can play with and respond.

Taking a random walk through any creative process, from science research, code development, performance art to the written word or the integration of all of these expressions — and having the confidence to do so — should not be a scary or disappointing approach to progress, but one that is embraced, encouraged, and even required for discovery.

 

 

 

Dynamic Patterns Research admittedly is not much of a follower of the art forms of hip-hop and rap, so we cannot express any expertise in the artists who work in this genre and their songwriting. However, one of the early hip-hop stars, GZA, or “The Genius,” a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan is currently marketing his latest album Dark Matter being released in early 2014… this album is apparently inspired by science as it makes an exploration of the cosmos through rap.

Now, our efforts here through Dynamic Patterns Research focus primarily on reaching out to a broad public to bring a greater appreciation for our Universe, and we have already experimented with merging physics and live theatrical entertainment through our first “Science at the Theatre” series production from Dynamic Patterns Theatre of QED: A Play, which had successful showings in Springfield, Jacksonville, and Decatur, Illinois.

GZA, Hip-hop Star

GZA performing at the Paid Dues hip hop festival at the Nokia Theatre in New York City. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

But here, at a national level, GZA boldly brings physics appreciation to the genre of hip-hop, which we are extremely excited to see as an unexpected approach. Although hip-hop is out of our skill set, it provides a wonderful example of how mixing informal science education (no matter how informal it might be) with popular cultural artistic forms is an exciting and effective method to increase understanding and appreciation of science to our citizens.

“A Rapper Finds His Muse in the Stars” :: Wall Street Journal Online :: May 30, 2012 [ READ ]

On November 15, 2013, GZA visited a lecture hall at the University of Toronto to provide a sneak peek of his new album. It is a rather unique marketing technique for a hip-hop artist, but one that is entirely appropriate for his latest work of art. Watch this amazing clip … and be inspired:

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrSGXS_73ws]

This just might be an album that Dynamic Patterns Research will have to invest in not only for our archives… but for our own inspiration. It is so refreshing to see informal physics appreciation spread further into the arts. This will help excite more people into considering a little more about how our world works, which will only result in better decision makers, smarter consumers, and more knowledgeable voters.

 

 
"Ask a Physicist" Panel at QED in Springfield, Illinois

Professors John Martin, Joanne Budzien, and Brian Carrigan

Dynamic Patterns Theatre recently launched their first production in the new Science at the Theatre SeriesQED: A Play. This funny, touching, and educational show featuring a day in the of life Nobel Laureate Prof. Richard Feynman is written by Peter Parnell and stars central Illinois actor Al Scheider.

With their combined background of art, literature, and physics, Matthew and Michelle Dearing have wanted to develop a unique and interesting theatrical experience that merges quality live entertainment with an element of informal education that is primed for a broad public audience. Interestingly, there is a significant library of great theatre that revolves around scientific themes and ideas, and dynamic patterns theatre explores this genre in its new “Science at the Theatre” Series.

“I believe it is critical for a broader public in our culture to have an increased general appreciation for science. By using creative venues for informal education opportunities, which is currently a major goal of the National Science Foundation, we can reach out to audiences searching for quality and memorable theatrical entertainment, while exposing them to inspiring and exciting ideas from science,” said Matthew T. Dearing, co-producer of dynamic patterns theatre and director of QED: A Play.

Al Scheider stars as Richard Feynman

Al Scheider stars as Richard Feynman

In the show QED, which stands for quantum electrodynamics, the physics model that describes how light and matter interact for which Feynman was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965, the script weaves Feynman’s professional biography, including the Manhattan Project and the Challenger inquiry, and provides a window into many of his personal emotions and challenges. All the while, the story integrates several great discussions of physics ideas presented for a general audience.

Through a collaboration with local physicists and teachers from regional academic institutions, dynamic patterns theatre developed a new educational and entertainment outreach program. Patrons experienced an informal forum highlighting aspects of Feynman’s life, career and featured science topics discussed during the play. The forum was directed toward a general audience and the panel facilitated informal science interactions with the goal of increasing patrons’ appreciation for science and how the Universe works, if only just a bit.

University of Illinois at Springfield

Illinois College

Glenwood High SchoolThe panelists included Dr. John Martin, Associate Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Illinois – Springfield, Dr. Brian Carrigan, Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences at Benedictine University, Dr. Joanne Budzien, Assistant Professor of Physics and MacMurray College, Dr. Jeff Chamberlain, Associate Professor and Chair of Physics at Illinois College, and Laurie O’Brien, physics teacher at Glenwood High School.

MacMurray College Benedictine University

“My academic background is in physics, so I am personally excited to merge my theatre and science interests into a new cultural event that has not been attempted before in Central Illinois”, said Mr. Dearing.

During the opening weekend of the show at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Illinois, the live panel of regional physicists responded to outstanding questions posed by patrons. With two full-houses in attendance, inquiries from the infinitely large to the infinitesimally small were interactively discussed, and geared toward an informal and non-technical audience.

Supporting role, Miriam Field, portrayed by Lynexia Dawn Chigges

Supporting role, Miriam Field, portrayed by Lynexia Dawn Chigges

Over twenty-six questions in all were sorted through on the spot and selected to feature during each performance. From “how many galaxies are in the known universe?” to “why does warm air rise?” and “how is Voyager 1 able to communicate from outside the solar system?”, the panel was energized and tackled each question with their combined years of experience studying the field. Several questions even tested the limits of our current understanding in physics, such as “why is there more matter than anti-matter?” with the only response being: “if you could answer that one, then you’d have the Nobel Prize!” We aptly completed the discussion on Saturday night with an extended explanation on the many options to “how does the Universe end?”

Mr. Dearing said, “This experiment in merging informal science education with live theatrical entertainment has been so interesting to develop, and the lively interactions between the patrons and the panel was exciting to witness. People were truly inspired to dive right in and ask about our universe and wonder about it what it can reveal.”

Additional questions provided by the audiences during the opening weekend are listed below, and we invite you to respond by commenting after this article as to what you think about this experience as an informal educational opportunity.

 … …

“Why does the tail of a comet not end? How does it stay ‘alive'”?

“What is the physical difference between a living creature and the same creature when it is dead?”

“Is there any dark matter in the solar system? If not, then how likely is it that there is a huge quantity in the galaxy?”

“How is God in the ‘god’ particle?”

“Can you explain the new age theory that everything comes from nothing as made famous by Dr. Lawrence Krauss?”

“What is the ‘friendliest’ sub-atomic particle?”

“How many fundamental forces are there at last count?”

“Do atoms that are part of a living organism behave differently than those that are part of, say, a rock or a pool of liquid steel?”

“Please discuss the concept of a continually expanding infinite universe. How can something infinity small (the universe at the moment of creation) be uniform in extent? What does it mean to expand infinitely?”

“Did Feynman write a popular text book?”

“What are some of the great discoveries by physicists?”

“Politics and ‘public policy’ aside, what is the reality of global warming: is it real? If so, is modern man to blame?”

“Have there been any major errors discovered in Feynman’s work?”

“Space and time may not be fundamental… comments?”

“Is it true that slide rules are coming back?”

“If all living individuals are a pile of atoms, then how do we define life from non-living things?”

 … …

These are some rather impressive questions, and dynamic patterns theatre is honored to have been the first to bring such an IN-TER-ES-TING and unique experience to a general audience in Central Illinois.

QED: A Play from Dynamic Patterns Theatre

In QED: A Play from dynamic patterns theatre, Richard Feynman was portrayed by Al Scheider, a long-time regional actor from Decatur who has performed in over sixty community theatre productions in thirty-seven years, and has directed theater for twelve years. The supporting role of Miriam Field, a young Caltech student, is played by Lynexia Dawn Chigges, who is a LPN with Memorial Physician Services, and has performed on stages from San Diego to Springfield, Illinois. The show was directed by Matthew T. Dearing.

 

Powerful new science and technological advances are a hallmark of the human species. We have been watching and interacting as new advancements happen in real-time for decades. One of the most memorable moments was when the entire county was glued to television sets in 1969 watching the first human being step directly onto our Moon.

So, although this mass participation of witnessing new science as it happens is not a new experience, Dynamic Patterns Research has been experimenting with “live” commentary and interactions with our users through the social interface of Facebook. Earlier this year, we watched as the Mars Curiosity Rover landed on the Red Planet (read more), and on the day of the event, we hosted a live Facebook comment feed (view). We also created a photo review of live screen shots during the event to commemorate the historic moment:

[youtube http://youtu.be/Za-IgYuQfBE]

Today, Dynamic Patterns Research took part in witnessing another important event in human technological achievements: the Red Bull Stratos Mission that sent a human being into the statosphere over 120,000 feet (23 miles) above sea level.

This brave human was Felix Baumgartner and he jumped out of a capsule in a custom fitted pressurized suit to free-fall reaching speeds above the sound barrier… the fastest human being — without a propelling system — ever. The interactive Mission Timeline provides an exciting, and awe-inspiring review of the stages of the flight.

Read the Facebook live comment feed during the Red Bull Stratos Mission

During the live feed event, we took screen shots to document some of the most exciting moments of the flight. With only one glitch of Felix’s helmet potentially not maintaining adequate heat, the entire operation appeared to proceed smoothly. Jumping from around 128,000 feet, you could almost feel the tension across the Internet from everyone watching the live feed together. It was incredible to see a man leap out of a tiny capsule so far above the planet.

 

More details about this wild and historic jump will be made available after the Red Bull Stratos team analyzes the valuable data collected through the jump. They’ll review what speed he reached, how his body handled the experience, and if similar approaches will be viable for offering safe emergency procedures for astronauts and space tourists of the future.

Watching these technological advancements happen live certainly isn’t citizen science in and of itself. However, the experience is an interesting opportunity for actively reaching out to support another fundamental goal of Dynamic Patterns Research: to bring a greater appreciation for science and a deeper understanding for how the Universe works to a broader public. We believe that everyone doesn’t need to earn a Ph.D. in a scientific field, but it is important that more citizens have a broader and greater appreciation for basic scientific ideas. We make decisions every day from local events in our personal lives to larger considerations that include national political and policy ideas. It’s important that we do not take for granted what we are told from the media and the political leaders of our country, and that we are able to critically evaluate what is happening around us on a daily basis.

Experiencing inspirational scientific events and participating in accessible scientific activities can provide great informal educational opportunities for the public. These experiences will increase our appreciation for the Universe, which is vital for our continued exponentially increasing rate of human advancement.

If you are would like to participate in a future live feed scientific event, become a fan of the Dynamic Patterns Research Facebook page to be notified or subscribe to our mailing list. If you are aware of an upcoming event that DPR should be aware of, please contact us right away.

 

The Perseus constellation, viewing source of the annual Perseid meteor showing.

Earth is once again passing through left-over material from Comet Swift-Tuttle providing us with the annual stellar artistic show of the Perseid Meteor Shower. The best nights to view will be August 11 through 13, 2012 anytime after 10 or 11 pm. The dark sky far from city lights just before dawn is expected to provide the optimal viewing experience. To add to this celestial delight, will be a crescent Moon in alignment with Jupiter and Venus viewable in the eastern sky in the early morning hours.

Focus your gaze toward the Perseus constellation not too far up from the horizon in the north to north-east direction. (Review a detailed sky map.) In darker conditions it might be possible to observe as many as one hundred per hour. If you are in a safe location–in other words, not near a country road–take a blanket and lie down on the ground for a comfortable and relaxing night of sky magic.

If you are fortunate enough to see many meteorites, it’s always fun to count your way to a world record. However, for more than just personal entertainment, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office is very interested in knowing precisely how many you see. In fact, they have developed a citizen science smart phone app called ‘Meteor Counter‘ for iPhone and Android to assist anyone in scientifically providing accurate observation counts to the NASA research team. With these crowd-sourced counts, NASA can further develop models of the Perseid meteor debris stream, which will guide future safety plans for orbiting spacecraft.

Perseid Meteor Shower Image from Spaceweather.com

Of course, not everyone in the Northern hemisphere will have optimal viewing experiences. However, online activities and live viewing of the shower will be available for those late night couch potatoes who would prefer to avoid the hot dog days of August. Courtesy of the great Spaceweather.com, a real-time Perseid Meteor show image gallery is available for viewing actual photos uploaded from amateur astronomers around the world. On the night of August 11 and 12, a live “Up All Night Chat” is also being hosted by NASA with astronomer Bill Cooke and colleagues where they will answer your questions and you will join them in a live video and audio feed of the shower. 

So, however you are able to view this spectacle–either interactively online or roaming in the countryside–the annual Perseid meteor shower is a beautiful moment that must be relished. We experience our days focused on the minutia of effectively living in our society, but it is so inspiring to step away, if for only an hour in the middle of the night, to remember that we are only a minuscule element in an amazingly massive and gorgeous universe.

  

 [youtube http://youtu.be/106ne66KAuw]