Maya Moseley, Alexander Herman, Casey Chang, Afra Ashraf, Laia Balasubramanian, Carrie Lei
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math make up a well-known acronym known as STEM. However, the acronym STEM has room to expand. SHTEAM better encompasses different disciplines that can come together for a common goal. The addition of the “H” and the “A” stand for humanities and art, respectively. By incorporating humanities and art, we look at STEM fields with a more open mind, allowing for more exploration and understanding of often challenging topics.
The humanities and artistic elements allow for the communication of STEM research and the way data is analyzed to develop and advance as we look at information differently. Our group focused on the intersection between STEM topics, specifically astronomy, the arts, and the humanities. We explored the extensive impact of marginalized groups on the advancement of space exploration. Additionally, we looked at a variety of representations of outer space. Through the use of creative drawings, such as our Apollo 11 Code Art we looked at things that are irrelevant to the average person, but by creating something visual out of code, we invite conversation and public interest into the field of space exploration. We employed the use of found text, a subjective process where we look at a research paper full of jargon and pick out the words and phrases that mean the most to us to better understand and form a personal relationship with the topic being researched.
Our report will focus on the intersection between the fields of astronomy, art, and humanities and their complementary nature. This paper is a culmination of six weeks of experiencing and studying the impact art and humanities have on STEM fields.
When referencing ontological concepts, it should be acknowledged that there is so much that we don’t know. In order to effectively explore the unknown, we need to productively break with conventional ways of thinking and creating. So, how do innovation and discovery happen? Well, usually through abstract thoughts and nontraditional processes. If people just decided to accept how things were and not be open to new creations and ideas over the vicissitudes of centuries, life as we know it and many of the luxuries provided to us would not exist. What our group has been creating and researching throughout our time together could also be considered unconventional. To synthesize what we have been doing, one can think of it as “breaking the mold” of traditional thought and creative processes.
The found text process is “breaking a mold” of how we read and interpret something.
Utilizing found text methodologies allows readers to absorb information from a paper that, at first glance, might seem esoteric. There is not only one way to research things effectively. The art pieces we created, our “celestial representations,” broke the mold of how one would traditionally represent ideas. We looked at how trailblazers in astronomy broke the mold of what people thought they could do. They used aspects of their being that some would use to marginalize them and persevered over obstacles that were made to limit them. Some would think that being blind, like Wanda Diaz-Merced, or being a woman in a male-dominated field like astronomy, would make the ability to significantly impact the field of astronomy impossible. But, Merced was able to sonify data, and many female leaders in astronomy were able to discover things that their male counterparts could not. Even astronomy is like breaking a mold because it helps people break the normative way of thinking in which they believe Earth is the only and most important place in universal existence when in reality, we exist in a whole universe. To clarify, although many of the activities we did were unconventional, we still referenced and built upon traditional research methods.
What are the motivations for looking into outer space and the media frenzy around it when it is so expensive? In all honestly, the grounds may change over time. It may be to gain public attention. It typically takes a government-funded telescope to look into the sky at a magnification where one can discover beyond what they could in their backyard. Those telescopes are costly, so obviously, public interest would be critical so that these and other initiatives taken by NASA could be better funded. Sherelyn Alejandro spoke to us at the start of our time together and explained how in the 60s, there was a worldwide space race, especially to see who could land on the moon first. Nowadays, a space race has reemerged among billionaires as the privatization of space grows astronomically.
In addition to Wanda Diaz Merced’s sonification of outer space and our use of the found text process, there are other distinct research methods that we have utilized that were more methodical. We coded a graph using sound bites we created. We looked at variation in flux across nebulae, using galactic latitude and light wavelengths between h-alpha (𝚨) and h-beta (𝛃), to look at patterns like in our interstellar reddening practice. Pattern recognition is vital for efficiency, simplification, and making new ideas easier to understand. We utilized peer-to-peer learning, as
well, because some people may be more receptive to learning from someone like them. Many of our assignments were kept open to interpretation as well, which helped facilitate the formation of new ideas and encouraged learning for both mentors and interns.
The Found Text Process
*In our studies, we use the term “found text” as a verb meaning that this is something that is done (an action).*
The found text process allows a reader to think about and interpret information differently than they typically would. To connect to our earlier projects, found text was quite a new concept to us. Below we will explore some articles on found text as well as explain the “what”, “why”, and “how” of the found text process.
Found Text Example A.
Found Text Example B.
What is Found Text?
Found text is a processing method where we make a bridge between being a reader and being an artist. This is achieved by dissecting or examining a piece of text. Found text is a way to better understand a text’s main focus by narrowing down what the reader finds to be the most important information. While creating a found text piece, the artist keeps the integrity of the text intact while inferring their own interpretation. Found text is a unique way to get people to interact with dense or scientific text in an engaging way.
Found text is a creative technique in which a reader dissects or examines a text. We concluded that there are four key components to found text, which are:
- Scanning for words/phrases important to you (the reader)
- Streamlining your focus and blocking out information you are not specifically looking for
- Looking for definitions and explanations
- Highlighting things that you do not understand
So, what is so crucial about found text? Well, it is a very effective way to better understand a text’s main focus by narrowing down the most important information. Creating a found text (example a. + b.) allows a reader to narrow down broad topics in order to focus on key information that relates, specifically to something someone is researching. Additionally, it emphasizes reader engagement via the use of creative elements in the process. There are many different processes one can use in creating a found text, but one way of breaking down the general elements of found text is as follows:
- Highlight information you find to be especially relevant to the main idea you are trying to grasp from your readings or research
- Black out information you don’t find especially relevant to your personal curiosities. What you choose to black out or highlight is completely up to you.
- Add a decorative element (example a+b)
- Create a decorative element, specifically images that connect to the text. Doing so will help a reader remember their readings with an interesting, engaging visual representation.
Creating a found text allows one to break away from traditional (think scientific method) experimental design and scientific research processes. Creative techniques and strategies are not typically utilized in aiding our understanding of scientific exchange and processing. Doing so, though, allows for information to be more uniquely interpreted than other widely used methods. Western science is crucial to modern-day society, but it does not necessarily need to be the end all be all as a way of thinking. Allowing for new ideas and methods of research may allow for more effective ways to find and interpret information. A found text is a very effective way for a general audience to process research and scholarly texts. Found text can be used to focus research by emphasizing components of a paper you are reviewing that are specifically applicable to your
research. Typically, scholarly papers are written with a field-specific vernacular that may be difficult for an uninformed audience to understand. Trying to read such a paper in the typical
head-to-toe style can be burdensome and overwhelming. The found text process allows a reader to dissect a paper one page at a time and better understand and connect to what they are reading.
Rather than passively reading something, the found text process allows one to actively engage and therefore grasp more information from it. A traditional way of reviewing scientific articles is by searching for an article online, reading it as an introduction, body, and conclusion, and maybe highlighting components that seem interesting to a reader. The found text process may include those elements but also removes unnecessary information and adds design elements to the annotations that can keep the reader engaged.
Why Create a Found Text?
Found text is a great way to analyze, investigate, explore, and introduce more challenging topics or works of scholarly or investigative text. When presented with a large article or research paper, the reader is often overwhelmed with the density of the information presented. By identifying and selecting ideas and topics that might be confusing or challenging to the reader, they are able to compartmentalize what they are reading. This will help with initially understanding smaller segments of information, allowing for more absorption and retention rather than blankly reading a challenging text. By breaking a long piece of text into smaller sections, focusing on what is most important to that reader, the reader gains a much better grasp and understanding of the main ideas and is more engaged with the text. Additionally, making a found text is fun and visually appealing; it creates a work of art in the process. This changes the reader’s mindset to make the process of reading a long text a more engaging and motivating process.
Why do we use found text in an education/research context (what’s the utility)?
- Peer-reviewed articles can be quite dense and hard to interpret by the general population
- Simplification of difficult topics
- It takes less time because less time is spent trying to understand something that is not crucial to your research
- Shows how you interpreted the text and highlighted the major/minor themes.
How to Create a Found Text?
Within our research, we have used Zoom annotations as a prototype for collaboratively creating found texts, but our mentors are designing a more user-friendly way to create found text. Doing found text activities as both a solo and group project, we have discovered many techniques that may work for other artists, students, and researchers. Our process is as follows. We begin with reading the page for about 3-5 minutes. This is where we would make our initial scan for important words and phrases. Then there is a combination of figuring out what you do not understand and what is the relevant material for the piece of the text. Once the group understood the page we were found texting, we would transition into making our initial markings on the piece. Markings might
include circling and highlighting any parts that stand out to us. This is equivalent to an artist making their first sketch on their canvas. After this step is complete, we examine the parts that are not highlighted and continue by blocking them out. This does not have to be in any particular color and it is completely up to the artist(s) on how they would like to redact the excess information.
Synopsis of “Boosting the Public Engagement With Astronomy Through Arts”
This paper titled “Boosting the public engagement with astronomy through arts” focuses on immersing the general public in astronomy. It aims to introduce topics that may be confusing or challenging to first-time learners and present those topics in a novel and enticing way.
As stated in the paper, art appeals to human emotion, which is advantageous, especially when used in an educational setting, because “the emotions are a key to long-term memory”. Three books are introduced aimed at assisting educators in their introduction and approach to astronomy for first-time students. The first novel, The Photon Starship, explores the life of Aster, a kid born on a spaceship who has never seen Earth. While describing his life, it simultaneously gives a great amount of background detail on astronomical concepts. The book can be used as a way to start a discussion “on exoplanetary systems’ architecture.” Another novel described in the paper is Infra Draconis, which follows a space flight to an object called infra. Infra is later found to be an object that is too small to sustain fusion in its core. This infra is equivalent to what are known as Brown Dwarfs today. As a result, this novel is a good introduction to Brown Dwarfs and gives some additional information about what they are comprised of. The last book that is described is Stars and Waves.
In contrast to the previous two novels, this book is a work of a professional astronomer who knows and understands the astronomical environment. This book details the various facets of exoplanetary research and portrays a realistic view of life in the astronomical community. It dives into astronomy’s history while providing information about relevant present-day technologies. The main idea behind the novel is finding life in the Universe other than on Earth. The novel stimulates discussion and engages interest in the search for life elsewhere, including how to work at observatories is organized and used to further this goal.
These three literary works can provide a plethora of information for astronomical education. They are an engaging way to introduce topics such as binary stars, planet formation, brown dwarfs, as well as the search for life in the Universe. They can be used to introduce astronomical topics, as a theme for discussion, or as a way for students to troubleshoot some of the originally false claims that were presented in the works. Talk about this information.
Our Creations and Projects
The following projects are just a few of the meaningful projects we did during our time together. Additionally, these were all relatively new concepts to us. Below we have described these projects and activities and described our personal interpretations.
Demonstration of Astronomical Concepts Interpreted Through Graphs and Charts
So, what is Dark Adaptation? Dark Adaptation is a process in which a part of the eye, the retina, changes from a photopic to a scotopic state. In other words, from a light-adapted state, where visual acuity is greatest, to a dark-adapted state, where light sensitivity is maximal (after 30 or more minutes) (Ofri, 2008). Increased light sensitivity of the retina in dark environments is caused by “dilatation of the pupil, synaptic adaptation of retinal neurons, and increase in the concentration of rhodopsin available in the outer segments” (Ofri, 2008, Ch.15). Cones in the eye are used for color vision. Rods, which are photoreceptive cells in the retina, are used for black and white vision in low light levels. Additionally, when there is a minimal level of light sensed by one’s eyes, after about 20 to 40 minutes in the condition, they start to produce a key chemical called rhodopsin. This is also known as “ visual purple,” which allows night vision to start setting in. (O’Connor, 2021).
How does this relate to astronomy? Astronomers realized that “Deep red lights do not trigger the neutralization of the rhodopsin”(O’Connor, 2021). Because of this, astronomers and safety officials use red lights for lighting at night to allow for a continuation of the night vision, which helps aid our ability to perceive outer space.
Sonification is a way to use audio to observe data. We observed its uses in an article in Nature called How One Astronomer Hears the Universe by Elizabeth Gibney. We learned about a computer scientist and astronomer named Wanda Diaz Merced. Merced is a blind scientist bringing innovations to the field of astronomy with respect to how we ‘see’ celestial phenomena. She designed a code that takes photos of space and creates sound from it — as if the night sky is a symphonic orchestra with all the stars and other data points creating a sound. Her code has allowed scientists to visualize data in a completely different manner. Her sonification algorithm makes beautiful music from the data, while also shedding light on things we cannot see with our eyes.
Our project for the theme of sonification was to create graphs of sound bites we made through coding in python. In addition, we took sounds from the text we were reading and any other clips we chose to practice how sonification graphing worked.
To be able to understand what a brown dwarf is, it is important to know the difference between a star and a planet. When looking through a telescope, a star shines light by producing light, while a planet only reflects light. A star forms from contracting hydrogen, where the temperature of the hydrogen reaches such high temperatures that it begins to fuse into helium. This process releases a huge amount of energy, causing the star to start shining. A planet on the other hand never reaches the size or heat necessary to produce its own light.
A brown dwarf is a mass that is between the size of a giant planet such as Jupiter, and a small star. Due to the smaller size, the mass would not be able to sustain the fusion of ordinary hydrogen, like a regular star can. As a result, many scientists call brown dwarfs “failed stars”.
One of our mentors, Afra, wrote a research paper based on the signatures of a specific phase of a dwarf’s life. Reading through the paper, there is so much information, as was expected; however, there is a huge distinction between reading and understanding. Our goal was to understand what was written – or at least part of it. We decided to create a found text on a page of our choosing. (See found text below) Breaking the text into many smaller bits and pieces makes it easier to read, as it isolates the important parts from the information that a reader finds to be less pertinent. Additionally, it creates a visually appealing picture that initiates a point for constructive conversation.
A nebula is a giant cloud of dust and gas in space. Some nebulae are created from explosions of dying stars. These stars are called supernovas. Nebulae are essential because they can act as nurseries for forming stars. With this scientific knowledge, we were able to research the cultural and historical significance of nebulae. Within the Book of the Images of the Fixed Stars, we viewed forty-eight constellations. These depictions were taken by Greek astronomer Ptolemy. In addition, we read through the Extra-Galactic Nebulae paper by Edwin Hubble. Hubble is famously known for his name on the Hubble Space Telescope and his role as a leading astronomer in discovering galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Additionally, we read Observing by Hand by Omar
W. Nasim. This brought to light the way that astronomy was studied in the past compared to how it is studied now. It made us easily connect the other two pieces together. This strong intersection is because all three pieces come at different times, but essentially aim to do similar things which is to explain astronomy.
Interstellar reddening is a phenomenon that occurs when micron-sized dust particles dim shorter wavelength light (such as blue light) more than longer wavelength light. The micron-sized dust particles are made of various elements, such as carbon, oxygen, iron, and other atoms that are essential for star formation. These dust particles are just the right size to interfere with the short wavelength of blue light (about 450nm)because the wavelength of blue light is about the same size as the particles. Red light, however, has a longer wavelength (about 700nm) that is larger than the size of the particles. This allows longer wavelengths of light such as redder light to pass through. Because of the dust in the Universe, the light that we see coming from distant objects is blocked or dimmed in blue wavelengths. The resulting effect is that everything looks redder than it actually is. The same phenomenon is responsible for red sunsets.
The Balmer series concerns Hydrogen electron transitions from energy levels n > 2 to n = 2. Energy levels in an atom (also known as shells) are the different “levels” or regions electrons can orbit an atom. Each electron level corresponds to a specific amount of energy, meaning that each electron in a particular shell has the same amount of energy as those around it. When Hydrogen electrons move from a higher energy level to a lower one, they emit photons (also known as light). Different intensities of Balmer lines occur where Hα is the strongest line, and Hβ is weaker. The ratio between the two is known as the Balmer decrement. Under typical conditions in planetary nebulae, the ratio between Hα and Hβ is 2.86. A planetary nebula lying behind a cloud of interstellar dust will be observed as having an intensity ratio of Hα to Hβ higher than 2.86. Galactic latitude is measured in degrees north or south of the Galaxy’s fundamental plane of symmetry. This plane is defined by the galactic equator, the great circle in the sky best fitting the plane of the Milky Way, as determined by a combination of optical and radio measurements.
The higher the galactic latitude, the lower the ratio between Hα and Hβ. When the ratio between Hα and Hβ is higher than 2.86, then a planetary nebula lying behind a cloud of interstellar dust is observed. Astronomers can infer the amount of interstellar reddening (and dust) between us and a planetary nebula by looking at the discrepancy between the observed and the theoretical Balmer decrements.
Our group looked at eight different nebulae and their corresponding flux (brightness levels) at two different wavelengths. Hα was located at 6563 Angstroms, while Hβ was located at 4861 Angstroms. We gathered the data for the maximum and the continuum (base) of each wavelength and calculated their net heights as well. We then looked at the ratio that was created between Hα and Hβ and listed the nebulae from highest to lowest ratio. By finding each ratio between wavelengths, and with the galactic latitudes provided, we can see that there is a correlation between the two, in that the higher the ratio, the lower the galactic latitude. As discussed earlier a ratio that is far off from the accepted value of 2.86, means that there is a large amount of dust (and therefore reddening) that can be seen between the observer, and the nebula itself.
Creating Something Sublime from Apollo Code
The Apollo 11 Mission was the first manned mission to the moon. During the cold war, one of the goals of the global powers was to have control of space. The main goal of the space race was to prove the intellectual and technological prowess of the United States to other countries (specifically Soviet Russia). Many scientists came together to make the Apollo 11 Mission successful. Large computers the size of whole basements were used to code the software necessary for the first manned mission to the moon. Today, however, many fail to realize that some of the most important people to the mission are now the most overlooked.
The build-up to the Apollo 11 Mission required a lot of precise calculations. One person who worked on projects leading up to and including Apollo 11 was an African American woman by the name of Katherine Johnson. She was responsible for many of the complex calculations that the computer would end up performing, but she was so talented that many called her a “human computer”. Another trailblazing woman named Margaret Hamilton was vital as the lead software engineer for the Apollo mission. programming that took place for the mission software.
Our goal was to look at the Apollo 11 code that was used to program the whole mission and turn it into something sublime. By taking bits and pieces of the code, we aimed to present it in a way that appeals to a general audience in an effort to start conversations about space exploration.
Additionally, we are able to portray different people in our artwork to bring to light those that may have been left in the dark.
The image shown is a reference to the American Flag planted on the moon by the Astronauts of the Apollo 11 Mission. The significance of being the first to the moon is a testament to American strength, ingenuity, and greatness that comes forward when people from all backgrounds come together for a common goal. While simple, my drawing embodies the power and impact that the Apollo 11 Mission had on global politics as well as space exploration today. By looking at the Apollo 11 code in this visual way, many people are much more willing to ask questions about the mission to the moon because this is a format that is easy to talk about with others. With public interest and opinion vital to our continuation of space exploration, I find it important to create conversation pieces to further our research.
The image I created shows the Apollo code being layered with a photo of an African-American female trailblazer in astronomy, American mathematician Katherine Johnson. Johnson worked on the Apollo code, among many crucial NASA projects. The Apollo code can be confusing and mindboggling, which can deter readers from exploring it. A representation like this one I created may help viewers look more into the importance of the Apollo code.
I was inspired by the historical impact of the Apollo code and was interested in exploring the societal issues that influenced the mission. Women such as Margaret Hamilton, Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, and Katherine Johnson, made significant contributions to the Apollo code, yet were not acknowledged for their impact. So within my piece, I used photographs to acknowledge the women who worked on the Apollo 11 mission.
Conclusion and Future Directions
Throughout the past six weeks, our group was centered around being able to make traditionally challenging disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math) more enticing to the general public. While those disciplines can be challenging to understand, there are ways to introduce the concepts that they encompass to get more people involved. We have incorporated Arts and Humanities into STEM, changing the well-known acronym into SHTEAM. While this acronym might seem uncanny, it is important to note that our group has focused on changing the norms and “breaking the mold” of traditional learning and teaching of STEM disciplines.
Found text was an area of great focus as we employed its use from the first week until the last week, looking at different parts of investigative and research papers. It is important to emphasize that this is a subjective process meaning that what is important in the text is personal to each reader. We instituted found text both individually and as a group. The two ways offer a different experience. When completing a found text individually, the reader might pick out individual words that impact what the reader is reading the most. In a group, this might include words that an individual might not choose, but another does, leading to a broader perspective and understanding of what is being said in the paper. Additionally, the visual appeal and enjoyable factor add to the engagement and therefore, understanding of the text.
We explored how we see and interpret light, depending on how much light is present. Our eyes adjusted from the brightness of the sun to the absence of light in a dark room. Different wavelengths of light impact human vision in different ways and allow us to see and interpret visual information differently. As a result, when astronomers look at the night sky, they use red light to illuminate their work area as red light does not affect our ability to see space as much as other wavelengths of light.
Graphs are a great visual resource! We employed the use of graphs by looking at light emitted from different celestial bodies, which we graphed and made sound from. By using the same technique as blind scientist Wanda Diaz Merced, we were able to code a symphony of the stars. Resultantly, we also created a visually appealing work of art that brings awareness to the light that is present in our universe which we do not see on a daily basis.
Brown dwarfs and nebulae were another source of interest during our exploration between astronomy and art. Nebulae can contain brown dwarfs (also known as failed stars). We performed a found text on a brown dwarf paper that our mentor Afra wrote, and used it to better understand the context of that paper. Our studies of nebulae continued with the interstellar reddening activity we later completed. By looking at the ratio of two different wavelengths of light we were able to determine which nebulae have the most space dust between us, the observer, and the nebula itself.
We studied different pioneers in the Apollo 11 mission, and how their roles contributed to the mission’s success. While there are people who do not believe in the Apollo 11 mission’s occurrence, we looked at the code for the software that was used to land on the moon.
Additionally, we created a piece of art using that code.
The culmination of all of the facets of astronomy that we incorporated in our studies are strung together by a single thread. That thread is art and humanity. While in today’s world, that thread is virtually nonexistent, we are effectively threading that artistic and humanities thread through oftentimes challenging concepts in an attempt to reach more people. Our goal has been to portray traditional STEM concepts through an artistic lens in order to reach a wider audience and engage the general public in astronomy. After all, the basis of all space research is based on public interest which in turn, generates funds for research.
Incorporating non-traditional research methods in traditional disciplines, we break the mold of conventional learning, choosing to introduce creativity and imagination in an attempt to expand knowledge to more people.
Throughout our research, we have implemented different techniques to incorporate more artistic values in astronomy. We believe that we can use our studies and applications of art in our future education in a variety of ways. Firstly, we can apply found text to different subjects. The found text process could be used to interpret many different things from Classical Literature to Psychology, to physics concepts. We could advocate for found text use in classrooms. Not every student learns best in the traditional way of reading and memorization. The found text process offers an effective, interactive, creative, and engaging alternative. It allows us to portray concepts in a visual way to entice more people in different disciplines. Lastly, we believe it is vital that we acknowledge and explore contributors who have been left in the dark, in an effort to inspire future generations to persevere despite obstacles that may slow them down.
Recommendations to Educators
Along with our future directions, in order to create change, we know it is vital that professors and educators implement some of our processes. We believe it is vital that educators try to include some of our exercises in their teaching. Teaching the process of found text can be done through group learning and group projects in any class subject. Here are some things to keep in mind about the found text process:
- If something is repeated in a text keep the most pertinent description or information and get rid of the one that the reader finds to be less relevant.
- Look for things that stand out and are unique to the reader (does the text mention or reference something else?)
- Along with other “nontraditional” research and note-taking styles, like Cornell notes, found text could be added to secondary level English and Science curricula to give another effective option for students to learn how to research.
Our goal is to get people excited about topics that they may feel they have no place in when quite the opposite is true. In every part of science, math, technology, and engineering, the portrayal of topics is vital, which is often done in a visual (artistic) form. Consequently, nowhere else are art and STEM more important than in the engagement of individuals to come together to create and inform.
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- Ashraf, Afra & Bardalez Gagliuffi, Daniella & Manjavacas, Elena & Vos, Johanna & Mechmann, Claire & Faherty, Jacqueline. (2022). Disentangling the Signatures of Blended-Light Atmospheres in L/T Transition Brown Dwarfs. 10.48550/arXiv.2206.09025.
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