Wanda Hears Stars
This past August, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) Burch Fellow Dr. Wanda Diaz-Merced participated in the XXIX International Astronomical Union (IAU) General Assembly Annual Conference in Honolulu, HI.
During the conference Wanda conducted an experiment to test a perception technique that uses sound as an adjunct for visual processing, facilitating the identification of signal in noisy data. The techniques purpose is to enhance one’s ability to spot low-level features in data and to facilitate data analysis by scientists with impaired vision.
As a researcher, Wanda is particularly interested in scientists with impaired eyesight because she is blind herself.
Late-onset diseases that affect the visual system, such as diabetes and glaucoma, are among the leading causes of blindness in adults in the United States. Unlike children who lose their sight while still young, adults who develop late-onset blindness are often already installed in successful careers. As a consequence they must be retrained to make use of technological accommodations if they are to retain quality of life. This is especially true for adults who have unique visual expertise prior to blindness, say, because they were astronomers, engineers, scientists, or physicians.
As part of her extremely innovative research during her fellowship this past year, Wanda has focused on what sounds stars make rather than how they look and how their sounds can detect patterns in large amounts of astrophysical data.