If you tilt your head back to look up into the night sky, and then close your eyes, can you hear the stars? I can.
In college, while studying to be an astrophysicist, I lost my sight from an extended illness. As you can imagine, astronomy and physics are very visual fields of study, so I thought I had lost my ability to continue to study the sciences that inspired me.
At that time there were limited ways that a blind person could do what I do, at the doctoral level, in science. But I was determined to find the means to work as an astrophysicist. So I worked to develop techniques in sonification, or how we translate data into sound signals. Suddenly, it was possible to detect subtle changes in data patterns, simply by listening to them. I was able to hear patterns that couldn’t be noticed otherwise, like in the electromagnetic waves emitted by stars.
I believe that astronomy, and all of the sciences, can inspire, amaze, and help us create a better world.
That’s why I’m so excited to be participating in the White House Frontiers Conference — an event that’s bringing together hundreds of innovators like me who are reimagining the boundaries of what’s possible in order to shape the present and the future.
While the term “frontier” is often thought of in relation to space, it’s about more than astronomy, or physics, or any one scientific discipline. It’s about innovation and curiosity and exploration.
It’s about making incredible breakthroughs in health care and personalized medicine, because each of us is different and has something to contribute. It’s about pushing the boundaries of data, to develop tools like sonification, yes, and also to create more inclusive communities by solving transportation challenges and expanding education opportunities. It’s about harnessing the potential of new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, and automation to find out how they can benefit all Americans.
I think that science is for everyone. It belongs to the people, and it has to be available to everyone, because we are all natural explorers.
You can be part of it, too. Tune in today at 1:45 pm ET, as President Obama and I explore the world’s most pressing challenges along with hundreds of other innovators, and strive to keep America on the cutting edge of all the frontiers to come.
Thanks for listening,
Wanda Diaz Merced