I am an astronomer turned data scientist working the the ICG. When I am not working on Tactile Universe I work as a developer for the Zooniverse focusing on data aggregation and a little bit of front-end work.
For the Tactile Universe I act as Technical Lead, that means I figure out how to take an image of a galaxy and turn it into a 3D model that can be used to teach people about the research we do at the ICG. After figuring out how to do it, I then write code to automate the the process so others can do it as well.
How I got involved with Tactile Universe
One day at lunch Nic was telling me about his idea for a public engagement aimed at people with vision impairments (VI). It would involve making a 3D “relief map” of a galaxy that could be printed, but at the time he did not know how to go about this. This initial discussion got me thinking about how this could be done, and Nic’s description reminded me of “height maps” that are commonly used in 3D graphics.
A few days later I overhead Nic talking about the project to our advisor Karen, and I decided to take a few moments out of my work day to prototype my height map idea. An hour later I had the basic idea figured out and made the following video.
When Karen and Nic saw this, they put me in touch with our faculty’s outreach coordinator, who had access to a 3D printer. The following day the printed model was sitting on my desk.
Little did I know at the time, this one hour distraction from my normal work day would turn into a successful and rewarding project spanning many years.
A few months later we borrowed a small 3D printer and started making new models, it took us a month of testing to reproduce the quality of that first prototype, but that is another story…