Applications of Astrophysics to Multimedia Art-Making In Parallel to Narratives of Science and Social Justice

Journal for High Schoolers, Journal for High Schoolers 2020


Nathalia Melgarejo-S., Thanh-Nga Shenoy, Carrie Lei, Ellen Liao, Sai Geetika Yelugoti, Afra Ashraf, Janani Balasubramanian


Ways of Seeing utilizes different levels of observation as a foundation to create parallels between astrophysics, various forms of science, and social justices to construct multimedia art projects that convey new perspectives of the content learned.
Our group is not a traditional research group, meaning we do not have one primary question to answer, but rather, we explore new themes each week beginning with questions that we try to analyze and answer by the end of that week. We invite speakers from a variety of institutions to introduce astronomical topics that correlate to the week’s theme and inspire our projects. Our thought-provoking discussions of the new concepts and information provide a base for further research and exploration. In both individual and small group settings, we demonstrate our findings through multimedia art forms such as immersive experiences, poetry, videography, slide decks, and writing. Our completed projects are then presented to the rest of our group at the end of the week to showcase conclusions and discuss newly developed questions.

Week 1: Observing

Initial Thoughts and Discussion:

The first theme we investigated was the differences between observing, seeing, and looking. As a group, we reflected on the perspectives of visual input we gained through reading and comprehending various sources such as Ways of Seeing by John Berger, How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell, and “In the Dark” by Philip Levine. We concluded that observing, seeing, and looking differ in levels of attention and focus. While looking is passive, unfocused, and unintentional, observing is a combination of intentional and intense visual input. We agreed as a group that seeing lies in between these two levels of focus and attention, as seeing is intentional, evoking critical thought. To tie this to astrophysics, one of our mentors, Afra Ashraf, spoke and introduced to us Astrophysical Darkness and Dark Adaptation. This concept of darkness is how astrophysicists observe the universe by studying the light of stellar objects that can only be seen and analyzed in the dark universe through dark adaptation, becoming familiar with surroundings that aren’t visible. Another guest speaker who spoke to us was astrophysicist Dr. Johanna Vos who explained her work of studying the stellar objects of brown dwarfs in comparison to her observations of the gas giant Jupiter. She shared how her skills and practices of observation allowed her to learn and analyze brown dwarfs.

Prompt and Processes:

  1. Dark Adaptation: An activity that isolated us to a dark room to adapt to the dark and observe our surroundings and highlight our experiences. We then had to curate works of art that represented our experiences of becoming dark-adapted.
  2. Immersive Experiences: Immersive projects leading us to explore something difficult to see in our lives and how to make it easier to see.

Projects: (week’s archive)

  1. We made artwork that curated our experiences of dark adaptation where we adapted to the surrounding darkness as time passed and began to feel a sense of calm being in solitude while faintly recognizing the objects around us.
  1. Our immersive projects in small groups consisted of how to read other people’s emotions and how to analyze and discover one’s values and persona.

Final Thoughts and Discussion:

Observing, seeing, and looking provide different means of understanding something we experience. When working on our dark adaptation and immersive experience projects, we each had to take into account which of these different forms of analysis we used and wanted our audience to experience while conveying what we’d gone through ourselves. We learned that we could explain science through art and prompt self reflection about what you know and might want to learn more about.

Main Takeaways:

  • Observing, seeing, and looking can be applied and explain different concepts of astronomy and science.
  • We have used these three levels of visual input to get a sense of how astrophysics and art can be used to create relatable situations for different people. These skills will serve as a foundation to help us to draw parallels between future themes of astrophysics.
  • We can also use observation in our daily lives and apply it to the world.
  • We can choose the level of attention, focus, and will we want to apply when studying or analyzing something we like or find interesting. It allows us to see the various sides of worldly ideas.

Week 2: Ghosts

Initial Thoughts and Discussion:

The Ways of Seeing group explored Ghosts as the second theme. Throughout this week, various definitions for, and symbols of, ghosts were brought into discussion; specifically, the connective theme of ghosts between its use in both women in STEM and brown dwarfs. Ghosts are commonly regarded as an unseen folklore character symbolizing the dead. In a more abstract perspective, a ghost is anything that is concealed, whether it be because it was forgotten, or simply unable to be detected.  This hidden aspect from the formal definition of ghosts was used to connect brown dwarfs and women in STEM. Since countless women in STEM are not given their deserved credit, they are unfortunately often forgotten in history. They are the ghosts of STEM. Likewise, brown dwarfs are often created in close proximity to other brown dwarfs, creating what’s known as a spectral binary. When astrophysicists record data from brown dwarfs in spectral binaries, they are unable to distinguish the number of brown dwarfs in the cluster. Therefore, these brown dwarfs are also hidden like ghosts. 

To explore this connection, the Ways of Seeing group was fortunate enough to be able to meet with Dr. Daniella Bardalez Gagliuffi, astrophysicist and women/minority advocate. Daniella was able to describe the main features of brown dwarfs and their hidden presence in spectral binary graphs. Additionally, Daniella was able to answer our various questions regarding women and minorities in a STEM environment, and also shared with us her outreach accomplishments and plans regarding women and minorities in STEM. Additionally, we read the story “The New Boyfriend” by Kelly Link, and the poem “Manhattan is a Lenape Word” by Natalie Diaz for further knowledge regarding, but not limited to, the standard definition of ghosts.  We also looked at an image taken by The Hubble Telescope of the pillars of creation. In this image, the pillars of creation are hard to see, which connects with the ghost trait of being hidden. Furthermore, we were able to read, and eventually create art with Daniella’s research article “Bridging the Gap on Tight Separation Brown Dwarf Binaries”. This article, while at an ungraspable complexity level for us, taught us more about brown dwarfs and spectral binaries, which encouraged more discussion about the connections they have to ghosts. 

Prompt and Processes: 

Using the perspectives prompted by Daniella’s visit, we crafted three projects that showcased the connections between Women in STEM and brown dwarfs. 

  1. Movie trailer in order to create a fully immersive experience where we were able to expose our audience to this connection not only visually, but also orally and through musical means.
  2. Edited version of the Pillars of Creation image taken by The Hubble Telescope. This allowed for the showcasing of how different perspectives are developed by different people, and therefore which parts are shown and which are hidden as a ghost. 
  3. Found Poetry was another means in which we were able to demonstrate how ghosts can symbolize various hidden perspectives. This was shown through our individual interpretations of Daniella’s research paper, and therefore which words we wished to keep in view. 

Projects: (week’s archive)

Movie trailer: showcased the connection between the women ghosts in STEM as well as ghost brown dwarfs in spectral binaries. Edited Version of The Pillars of Creation: editing this image in different ways showed the various interpretations across our group, and turned what was originally a ghost picture into something visible.Found Poetry: By blacking out words or phrases found in Daniella’s Paper, “Bridging the Gap on Tight Separation Brown Dwarf binaries, we were able to hide these words as ghosts, and show specific parts of the paper of our choosing.

Final Thoughts and Discussion:

Our final discussions of the week allowed us to realize the connections between the themes of ghosts and observing. In order to notice and unearth these symbolisms, we learned to analyze and interpret both visual and non-visual input, taking in the greater surrounding factors. This week’s projects also hinted at the following week’s theme of abolition and worldbuilding through the parallels of gender inequality and social injustice. Additionally, our new knowledge of brown dwarfs helped us to better understand cosmic patterns and objects, giving us the essential background knowledge to worldbuild in space during the following week. 

As we conclude each week with additions to the question archive, this week left us asking: How can uncovering information and hiding information help science? What defines a ghost to begin with, and how are they created? What are non-traditional ways in which we can convey new scientific information? The scope of this week’s work addressed each of these questions, yet there are endless new paths of discovery within each one. 

Main Takeaways:

  • We learned to make connections between science, social justice, and art. For instance, our visual projects allowed us to reach the consensus that women in stem must be accredited for their achievements, and not be left as the ghosts of science. 
  • Statistical data, facts, and alternate perspectives of thinking across disciplines worked to craft expressive creations that showcased our different understandings of how these fields are intertwined. In doing so, we learned of the different ways ghosts can be symbolized. 
  • It is important to uncover the ghosts of the past to learn from their experiences.

Week 3: Abolition and Worldbuilding

Initial Thoughts and Discussion:

During the third week, our group explored the themes of abolition and worldbuilding. Our first step was to synthesize from various sources to define abolition. From a conversation between Tourmaline and Dean Spade, we learned that abolition means repairing and transforming systems that perpetuate harm. Tourmaline further explained that abolition is based on the idea that no individual is “disposable” or “expendable,” a sentiment that was echoed during the Haymarket Books virtual event “Abolish Policing, Not Just the Police.” During this event, authors Maya Schenwar and Victoria Law discussed the alternatives to incarceration, such as probation, drug courts, and mandatory psychiatric treatment, all of which are forms of policing that have a negative impact on the lives of those found guilty, trapping them in cycles of debt, eventually resulting in longer sentences, and, in some cases, leading to death. Instead, the authors propose community-based methods of keeping others accountable in order to abolish the system of injustice that is policing.

In addition, in order to preface the week’s activities, we watched Moiya McTier’s fact-based worldbuiling videos, and she gave us a talk on what worldbuiling is and how she approaches it. Wordbuilding is the process of imagining and constructing a world with intentionally unique aspects. To start, you need to ask yourself, “What is different about the world I am building?” If you choose a cultural aspect, you might follow up with questions about what kind of conditions (biological, physical, chemical, etc.) would lead to that cultural difference, or if you choose a scientific aspect, you might follow up with questions about what kind of culture would result from the conditions supported by that science. This process of asking questions and thinking about circumstance in the context of the environment is not only useful in cultural and scientific research but also to help build tolerance of others and their backgrounds. 

Prompt and Processes:

  1. Mission Proposal: In small groups, we wrote creative mission proposals to a planet where some social/political condition is significantly different from our own.
  2. Exoplanetary Mythology: We used a program to find best-fit lines for transit curves in Kepler exoplanetary data, which “proved” the existence of selected exoplanets from the Kepler database. Using this data and information from our own research into the exoplanets we chose, we developed mythological characters that may have arisen from the exoplanetary conditions. 

Projects: (week’s archive)

Mission Proposals:
Exoplanetary Mythology:

Final Thoughts and Discussion:

The process of facts-based worldbuilding gave us an opportunity to pose our own questions and research scientific concepts that would lead to potential answers. With the mission proposals, we worldbuilt around a unique cultural aspect, whereas with the exoplanetary mythology projects, we worldbuilt around the existing knowledge about the conditions of exoplanets. In both cases, we applied science to think about how science shapes society and vice versa. 

For the mission proposals, both groups decided to abolish the patriarchy on their imaginative planets; however, each group took very different approaches in designing such a world. Than-Nga, Geetika, and Ellen created a world in which greater value would be placed in the female population due to the high incidence of male sterility and female ability to asexually reproduce. Natalia and Carrie created a world characterized by pure equality due to the face that all members of the species in their world are, more or less, clones of each other. Both groups also did extensive research and writing on the biological, chemical, physical, etc. characteristics that would lead to the formation of these societies, and the final mission proposals included details about paths of orbit, climate patterns, atmosphere composition, other flora and fauna and more. Although the project was an opportunity to make connections between many different fields and concepts, the process of the project also revealed that the extent of our imagination is limited by our environment and our knowledge about the world we live in. This is because the process of worldbuilding required us to reflect on why our culture and conditions are the way they are and how those elements could be changed to create new cultures and conditions. 

The individual exoplanetary mythology projects produced very different and unique results. The project required us to worldbuild using existing exoplanetary data and produce art based on imagined mythological lifeforms and/or characters from existing exoplanets. Each project took inspiration from media and stories that we are interested in and the resulting projects demonstrated use of various forms of art and online tools. 

Main Takeaways:

  • Open-ended questions can lead to very in-depth results 
  • Allow space for imagination and inclusion of other science fields, biology for example
  • Your scientific process is highly dependent on your environment and background 
  • Think about how you might want to change the world (opportunity to reflect on your experiences, values, and goals)
  • Multimedia art is a creative way to express science 

Week 4: Feminist Science

Initial Thoughts and Discussion:

The Ways of Seeing group dove into the fourth theme — Feminist Science — with new tools of worldbuilding, a greater understanding of various artform applications, and non-traditional methods of science communication. We began the week listening to Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes’s podcast titled You’re Wrong About Alpha Males, an introduction to the effects of a human society influenced by patriarchal standards. Our group also read Emily Martin’s The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles, a piece that debugs and retells the true science behind the male and female reproductive systems using a clear feminist tone. Martin reverses the stigmas around the female egg and portrays it as an important, strong, and dominant organism in contrast to the traditionally emboldened male sperm. These pieces were an eye-opener to the subtle ways genderism appeared in our education, media, and literature. Our group discussions led to further realization of the subconscious ways patriarchy has influenced our personal lives, and conversation began  to focus directly on how STEM has been affected by the absence of women/womxn. Coupled with inspirations and insight from Dr. Natalie Gosnell, an astronomy professor creating voices for women and changing the dynamics within her department, we began to create a project that tackled and explained: How does patriarchy affect how science is told? And how can we make science more diverse and accessible? 

Prompt and Processes:

With a new perspective on how gender has largely influenced our understanding of science, we created children’s astronomy books using clear feminist motifs and diction. By creating this with a young audience in mind, we addressed the issue of how patriarchal values are implemented from a young age and provided a unique solution: altering children’s science books to be more inclusive and less gender-biased. This also helped us learn to distill science and be able to efficiently explain technical concepts to a broader audience. We channeled our creativity through poetry, hand-draw art, and animated slide presentations with knowledge of brown dwarfs, research of hidden female science figures, and insight from Dr. Gosnell’s research on blue straggler stars to create our short stories. 

Projects: (week’s archive)

The Failed Star: a hand-drawn children’s book explaining brown dwarves through lenses of inclusion and collaborationStella’s Journey to Arion: a poetic and animated short story following the journey of a female astronomer meeting women in various fields of STEM

The Failed Star narrates the story of a brown dwarf who feels outcast by neighboring planets and stars for his appearance and physicalities. The authors of this short story distilled the science behind brown dwarfs and tied in themes of inclusion and acceptance as the brown dwarf grows to find similar cosmic peers for support. Hand-drawn art further enhanced the presentation of this narrative. This tied into the week’s theme of feminism as the brown dwarfs represented the women in STEM: alone they may feel separate and excluded, but together, they are a strong power that brings unique perspectives. 

Stella’s Journey to Arion is a children’s poetry book that follows a female astronomer on her adventure to a new planet, Arion. This imaginary planet’s infrastructure and society was built from the contributions of female scientists. The story explains the professions of chemists, engineers, biologists, and other STEM related fields through poetic prose and animations. We wanted to address Dr. Gosnell’s experiences of imposter syndrome in her field: the feeling of constant doubt in one’s capabilities. By creating a world where women are leading figures, we hope to empower current women in STEM to be confident in their skills and voice their opinions. 

Final Thoughts and Discussion:

Our final discussions allowed us to draw connections between the current and past themes. The previous week’s topic of worldbuilding and abolition inspired us to find ways of using science to change a social injustice. With our knowledge from the first week’s immersive experience projects, we explored another means of communicating science in a virtual manner. This week’s projects led us into the following week’s theme of fables and expansion where we used our storytelling toolbox to create fables and a collaborative piece-wise story. 

We also gained a new perspective on observing science, to notice and address stigma in science texts and societal trends. We learned to be more aware of our biases, be more inclusive towards others, and be more bold in empowering our peers. Our team was amazed by how we could use children’s books as a basis for teaching astronomy alongside lessons of tolerance and inclusiveness. 

Each theme closes with additional questions to our question archive. Our week’s research led us to several further questions: How can social constructs or behaviors influence how science is told or written? How does using certain language affect the conversation around a topic? What can majority groups do to avoid suppressing minority voices? 

Main Takeaways:

  • People are exposed from a very young age to subtle genderism through numerous mediums, particularly in science curriculum, which affects their lifelong perspectives and beliefs.
  • These biases that we’ve uncovered in our science curriculum changed our ways of understanding and observing science. What we see on the surface may be skewed, yet our subconscious does not realize this due to the values ingrained from a young age. We need our skills of observing to find the unbiased truth beneath.

Week 5: Fables and Expansion

Initial Thoughts and Discussion:

The Ways of Seeing group began the fifth week of our internship by watching a Stanford KIPAC webinar on early light in the universe and reading Italo Calvino’s short story “All at One Point” from Cosmicomics and a short story on black holes called “Lunch at the Event Horizon” that included personifications of myth and reality. Following that, we held a discussion inspired by these sources and our takeaways from the previous week on feminist science. We talked about fables and folktales and how some tales we tell in science (i.e. the apple that fell on Newton’s head) bear a strong resemblance to such. Based on the reading we did, we had a conversation about how we can harness “modern fables” and short stories to bring scientific concepts to a larger audience or bring a new perspective to the concepts as a whole. We also discussed the expansion of the universe.

Prompt and Processes:

  1. Sci-fi Fable: Each member wrote a science fiction fable explaining an astrophysical concept discovered within the last decade.
  2. Age of the Universe: Each member calculated the age of the universe based on Hubble data, then created an art piece based on the result and method of calculation.
  3. Piecewise Story: We created a piecewise/pass-it-on-type story with all the members of the group.

Projects: (week’s archive)

  1. Sci-fi Fable

Group members tackled this project in a variety of different ways. Some decided to introduce their chosen concept in an abstract manner (Carrie, Nathalia), while others opted for something more direct (Ellen, Geetika, Thanh-Nga).

  1. Age of the Universe:

Our calculated value, 15.3 billion years, ended up in the same order of magnitude as the scientifically agreed-upon estimate, 12.8 billion years.

  1. Piecewise Story

The story was a fun exercise in collaboration. It worked out pretty well — each person ended up posing a research question to the next, in a way.
Moon Rise From the Space Station | NASAEnhance Your Trading Game with THESE Calculations

Final Thoughts and Discussion:

In our final discussion, we connected what we had learned during the week to previous themes. Fables and expansion ties in to the first theme of observing through the ways in which stories and fables can change our views of scientific history. The fifth week’s theme also ties in with previous theme of feminist science in several ways. Some of the patriarchal narratives taught in science heavily resemble fables, both in accuracy and spread. In addition, our projects in Week Five reinforced an idea our projects in Week Four also showed — that there are many ways to go about explaining science concepts through stories,

The theme and experiences of the fifth week also helped set us up for the next theme: archives and fragments. Our beginning-of-week readings and our discussions throughout the week showed to us that the narratives we tell have power and can cloud our understanding of history, regardless of truth.

At the end of the week, our group added some more questions to the Question Archive: How do fables and fairytales affect the way we think about science and society? How can we explain science in the format of telling a story? Are there parallels between research and (collaborative) storytelling? How have the teachings of fables and fairytales changed according to the current problems in society? What is the process of asking questions in science/storytelling, and how can those questions be answered by others and lead to new questions? How might science shift or change when retelling a story or concept?

Main Takeaways:

  • Science can be explored through fables and other stories.
  • Stories can be told in a multitude of ways to convey ideas of science to a wider audience.
  • But we have to be mindful of the narratives we tell because they can perpetuate biases.

Week 6: Archives and Fragments

Initial Thoughts and Discussion:

  Our group’s sixth theme was archives and fragments. Keeping in mind our last theme of fables and how they can include historical and social science in writing, we knew that it was going to be similar to what we’d learn this week, the History of Science. To create some background on our new theme, we looked over an open letter that hundreds of astronomers signed regarding the construction of a telescope on Native Hawaiian Land and an interview of a wayfinding Polynesian man and his daughter. We also read two essays from Shireen Hamza, our speaker for the week, who studies and teaches the History of Science. This field delves into what is taught about the typical eurocentric science, its origin, and the various scientific narratives that differ from person to groups all over the world. Shireen presented the relationship between Modern and Traditional science and how it affects the way the world views what we think of  “science” and its biases.

Prompt and Processes:

  1. Mail art: this project involved making an artifact that might’ve been lost, destroyed, or existed if history had unraveled another way about an astronomer or astrological concept that isn’t well-known in history, which we then had to mail to another member of our group.

Projects: (week’s archive)

Thanh-Nga → Geetika: a scenario of what science would look like today if Pluto was never discovered
Geetika → Carrie: list of Hindu and Islamic collaborative astronomical innovations, diagrams of inventions
Carrie →  Nathalia: brief tellings about Polynesian, Chinese, and Malian contributions to science
Nathalia →  Ellen: pictures telling the lost astronomical information of an old Andean civilization
Ellen → Thanh-Nga: excerpts of astronomical facts from a Chinese astronomy book

Final Thoughts and Discussion:

Our discussion of what we thought about the History of Science led to multiple questions in the Question Archive; How does “modern” science influence “traditional” science? How might science be different today if different cultures were given credit for their science? How can educational discussions change for us to be more open-minded about different cultures? How has modern science affected our personal prejudices of science? These questions really prompted us to think about the scientific concepts we were taught at a young age by those around us like family and how it influenced our current views and prejudices as we learned science from a curriculum in school. 

We also thought about how the science that we know today is biased and full of holes that might never be filled. The science of countless unaccredited cultures that has been left out by those who decided what science should be has been reduced but not forgotten in ways like stories and fables, which we explored the previous week.

Main Takeaways:

  • Science and its history is divided between the “science” that the world is familiar with, eurocentric science, and the sciences that aren’t well known and unaccredited. This divide has been affected by what counts as science and from whose perspective is a science being told and shared. 
  • We discovered new ways in which science is biased and how it will continue to be so because all the science in the world hasn’t been discovered; even past discoveries of science haven’t been accredited. 
  • Through our exploration of this theme, we learned that there are an unlimited amount of questions about science and its origins. If history had been more inclusive of the sciences that exist but aren’t well-known, how might today’s “science” and world be different? This is a question that diverges into endless further questions, and we hope to one day reflect upon and find answers to. 

Future Directions

Recommendations for Students

  • Adopt a mentality of observation: The skill of observing hidden concepts that are hard to see in science or other subjects with attention to detail will lead to the discovery of new perspectives and ways of thinking outside of previous biases. What connections can you make in science or interests that you like based on what you observe around you?
  • Reflect on perspectives from life experiences: Situations or experiences in your life shape your perspectives. What perspectives do you have based on these situations and experiences? Many biases and social justice issues may relate to a group you associate with. How does this add to your perspectives?
  • Challenge traditionally accepted ideas: As students, we are led to believe that science is black and white: the way the scientific method is taught compels us to believe that science is a purely objective process, and our exposure to only fundamental scientific concepts leads us to believe that science is built upon the notion of right versus wrong. To combat this, there should be open discussions on our thoughts of science so the stigma of questioning the laws of science disappears.
  • Make connections between disciplines: Rather than treating different subjects as separate, as we generally do in traditional school curriculum, find ways of combining your knowledge across all subjects to build a more cohesive learning experience. How could you use skills from your art class to enhance your biology report? How do the social movements you’ve studied in your history class change your perspectives of the literature you read in English? How does the sport you play implement design and math?
  • End with more questions than you started: It’s okay to not know. Finding yourself ending with more questions that you started with is a rewarding process. This shows in-depth engagement with your chosen topic. Is there anything you would like to learn more about? Anything that you would change? Anything that you don’t understand (yet)? Are you curious how your topic could mesh with another? Or whether some crazy idea of yours could become reality? Remember, there’s always something more to explore, and the end of one exploration is not the end of the road for all others. The processes of exploration and discovery are never-ending. 

Recommendations for Educators/Parents 

  • Make space for creativity: Leave questions and/or prompts open-ended to make space for creativity, allowing students to explore their skills and interests, and incorporate their ideas and background. Sharing these answers/projects can be an individual learning experience, but also help expose other students to new ideas as well. Also, use creativity through recognizing different forms of communications (i.e. immersive experiences, story-telling, world building…) and accurately identify an effective form for individual students. What are the different mediums that can be used to explain science?
  • Combine science and social justice: Acknowledge current and previous social issues such as gender inequality or exclusion in sciences and give credit to leading figures within these movements. Incorporate the lessons learned from these issues into ways of bettering and creating a more just and inclusive science. Discuss how individuals and populations are affected by science-related issues. What are the ways we see science changing societal norms? And vice-versa, how has society changed our understanding and progression of science?
  • Be conscious of language and perspective to minimize biases: Especially when teaching narratives of science and/or scientific concepts, it’s important to be aware of previous biases. Evaluate your biases and how your background shapes your circumstances and how you understand the world. Allow and encourage discussions of hidden perspectives of ideas and concepts. What are the ways that the language of scientific literature and discussions are exclusionary or discriminatory? 
  • Challenge conventional curriculum: Be mindful of previous biases/forgotten figures within curriculum and work to oppose these stigmas and incorporate these figures in syllabi. 

Taking What We’ve Learned Going Forward

Ways of Seeing members reflected upon ways of implementing our newly gained knowledge from this research experience into our individual lives and possible means to share our new insights. 

Geetika — One of the main takeaways from this project for me was the importance of connecting disciplines and people. In conventional curriculum, subjects are largely taught separately and science education places a greater emphasis on concepts and processes as opposed to the individuals that contribute to and that are affected by science. Going forward, I want to delve deeper into the histories and stories of the sciences that I engage with. Although the results of my research into these stories will likely not be comprehensive, as our study of the ghosts of science and the history of science has taught us, I’ve come to realize that the process of asking questions about these topics itself is important as it can open up new avenues for research and is an acknowledgement that science is not wholly objective but rather the product of scientists’ work, paradigms, backgrounds, and interests. I believe that it is not enough to keep these realizations within the Ways of Seeing group; thus, I hope to use my platforms to amplify the voices and stories of the ghosts of STEM as well as those individuals currently excluded from or undermined in STEM fields and create interdisciplinary opportunities for my peers and younger students. Most importantly, I will embrace being a “troublemaker” when pushing for change in STEM and continue to ask questions and end with many, many more. 

Ellen — I have struggled with asking questions in the past for fear of appearing, well, dumb. Realizing that scientists don’t know everything—or actually that humanity as a whole knows hardly anything at all — has brought me peace with the idea that asking questions is not just okay, but something that everyone should be doing. In addition, this experience has renewed my interest in making connections between disciplines. Seeing how subjects intersect is captivating, as well as far more applicable to the real world, because nothing is just one pure subject or another. Things have to combine to create more and better things. The topics we covered in the internship has also reminded me to keep in mind my own (subconscious) biases and prejudices that cloud my judgement because they are there, whether I want them to be or not. Ways of Seeing has taught me that biases exist not only in myself and other people, but in the science I am taught as well. Noticing that these biases are prevalent in science and other fields will help me combat them in the future.

Thanh-Nga — This idea of being creative both across disciplines and within the individual fields can be applied to not only my school work and discussions, but also in my sports (tennis) and my job (swim instructor & lifeguarding). These are both activities that are not considered “science” activities, but both have potential in creating scientific connections and explanations. For example, there are many physics concepts found in different swimming strokes and tennis swings, biology/anatomy in medical attention found in lifeguarding, and chemistry in the pool chemical concentrations. While these are just a few activities I do that would implement this concept of creatively combining fields, one might be able to see the potential and scope in which this idea can be applied. 

Carrie — This experience showed me that research and learning can be extremely exciting and unique to the individual. There are numerous ways of expressing our ideas, and it’s the unexpected and non-traditional formats that resonate with the audience. I’ve learned to think outside the box — to explore and incorporate separate themes — through our parallels to social injustices, a skill I can apply when tackling a school project. I’ve learned to build off of others’ ideas and leave things open-ended with room for other opinions through our collaborative storytelling projects, a trait that I can forever carry and utilize in group settings. I’ve learned to combine my knowledge of the sciences and arts through our world building exercises, an experience that undoubtedly showed me new ways to bring together math, programming, design, and engineering to build a robot for my school’s robotics team. I’ve learned that observation is a way of research on its own — to take into perspective the surroundings, pay attention to the details, and bring further personal thought — a skillset I can take to analyzing plays for water polo or perfecting my stroke for swim. 

Nathalia — I used to think research was just a tiring and boring process, but now I see that it’s a fun and creative way to express what excites me. Discovering new perspectives by making connections between topics that I thought had no similarities like astrophysics, art, music, engineering, and social justice changed my mind by allowing me to see the world differently, with more detail. I realized that I had some prejudices about science; it motivates me to be unbiased so I can be a more thoughtful and considerate person. Really taking in the details of what I learn in the future will help me be able to be a more creative and well-rounded person. Applying my learned skills to my extracurriculars like robotics, photography, and new topics that I’ll explore in school is what I look forward to doing. I’ve learned so many forms of art that inspire me to make curate projects depicting my love of music, engineering, and art itself so I can provide lenses for my family, friends, and others to realize new ways of thinking and expression.


We’d like to thank the astrophysics researchers Dr. Johanna Vos, Dr. Daniella Bardalez Gagliuffi, Moiya McTier, Dr. Natalie Gosnell, and Shireen Hamza who have given us a lens to view the human side of scientific research. Discussing themes such as the gender gap in STEM and social justice have helped us in creating projects like our videos that use brown dwarf spectral binaries to demonstrate erasure of women in STEM and worldbuilding projects as a method of abolishing the patriarchy on exoplanets of our imagination. Every guest speaker we’ve had the pleasure of talking to has broadened our minds to the various sides of science.

To our Ways of Seeing group mentors Janani Balasubramanian and Afra Ashraf, thank you so much for teaching us everything we’ve learned throughout the summer. We’ve learned so much about astrophysics and multimedia art-making that we’ve discovered new ways of creating artwork that incorporates different aspects of astronomy and current events that relate to social justice. We’re grateful for all the skills that we now have and will apply these skills in the future with our own interests. What we now know allows us to make new connections and inspire us to observe, see, and look at the world differently.

If reading our paper inspired you to begin your personal journey of discovering new perspectives, you can follow this link to reveal whose traditional land your home is located on as a starting point: | Our home on native land


[1] Ashraf, Afra. “Astrophysical Darkness.” Observing. Stanford. 2020, June 22. Lecture.

[2] Balasubramanian, Janani. “Lunch at the Event Horizon.” (2019).

[3] Bardalez Gagliuffi, Daniella C.; Burgasser, Adam J.; Gelino, Christopher R.; Melis, Carl; Blake, Cullen “Bridging the gap on tight separation brown dwarf binaries.” Cambridge Workshop on Cool Stars, Stellar Systems, and the Sun, vol. 18, 2015, pp. 575-582.…18..575B/abstract.

[4] Berger, J. (2012). Chapter 1. In Ways of seeing: based on the BBC television series with John Berger
(pp. 8–33). British Broadcasting Corp.

[5] Brazelton, M. A., Burton, E., Hamza, S., & Singh, C. History of Science in Asia: Decolonizing the History of Science. Working Groups | Consortium for History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

[6] Calvino, Italo, and William Weaver. Cosmicomics. 1st ed., Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

[7] Cole, A. (2016, May 26). Father And Daughter Circumnavigate The Globe Using A Mental Compass. NPR.

[8] Diaz, N. Manhattan is a Lenape Word.

[9] Hamza, S. (2020, June 10). Annulling the Marriage of Two Men: A Marginal Note in a Yemeni Manuscript [web log].

[10] Hamza, S. (2020, July 1). Islamic History and Medicine in Trans Muslim Lives [web log].

[11] Haymarket Books. (2020, July 2). Abolish Policing, Not Just the Police [Video]. Youtube.

[12] KIPAC. (2020, July 14). Echoes of the Early Universe – Discover Our Universe [Video]. Youtube.

[13] “LETTER: Astrophysics Graduate Students at TMT Partner Institutions Express Concern.” Big Island Now | LETTER: Astrophysics Graduate Students at TMT Partner Institutions Express Concern, 20 July 2019,

[14] Levine, Philip; Poets Laureate Collection (Library of Congress) (1979). In the Dark. 7 Years from Somewhere: Poems. Atheneum. 

[15] Link, K. (2016). The New Boyfriend. In Get in Trouble: Stories. essay, Random House.

[16] Martin, Emily. “The Egg and the Sperm: How Science Has Constructed a Romance Based on Stereotypical Male-Female Roles.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, vol. 16, no. 3, 1991, pp. 485–501. Crossref, doi:10.1086/494680.

[17] McTier, Moiya. [Moiya McTier]. (2020, May 21). Reverse Worldbuilding: Banshees [Video].Youtube.

[18] McTier, Moiya. [Moiya McTier]. (2020, May 31). Reverse Worldbuilding: The Good Cop [Video].

[19] Odell, J. (2020). Chapter 4 Exercises in Attention. In How to Do Nothing. essay, Random House US.

[20] Tourmaline. (2020, July 2). Filmmaker and Activist Tourmaline on How to Freedom Dream.’re Wrong About. (2018, August 4). Alpha Males. Stitcher.

Leave a Reply