The Solar System Radio Explorer Kiosk

For Students - Learn more about Jupiter's radio emissions

For Educators - More information on the SSREK project

Noreen Grice, Leonard Garcia and Jay Friedlander standing next to the SSREK

Noreen Grice, Leonard Garcia and Jay Friedlander presenting the Solar System Radio Explorer Kiosk at the National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam, August, 2007

The SSREK project

Introduction to the Project

a woman exploring one panel of the kioskThere is a lot to learn about the universe outside of what you can see with your eyes. The Solar System Radio Explorer Kiosk (SSREK) will teach visitors about radio waves from the planets and the Sun and what they may be telling us about these worlds. The SSREK will also show that the senses of hearing and touch are viable ways to learn about these emissions. Through the innovative rendering of radio astronomy data, the SSREK will impart to the public the excitement of scientific discovery and inspire and motivate a new generation to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, especially students that are currently underrepresented in these fields.

Radio Observations of Jupiter - What can you can learn from sound?

Twentieth century astronomy may be most remembered by its expansion into regions of the electromagnetic spectrum in which we are all blind. To interpret these data, astronomers often convert them into images with "false colors". In 1955, Jupiter was discovered to be a strong source of radio emissions. Jovian radio emissions however were routinely converted into audio signals. Listening to Jupiter along with visually presenting these data can be a means of identifying the different types of Jovian radio bursts, distinguishing Jupiter from background noise and providing information about Jupiter's magnetic environment.

Goals of the SSREK:

Objectives to Meet These Goals:

Status of the SSREK Project

an image of the main menu showing Jupiter, Earth and Sun as options to selectWe have built an interactive museum kiosk. The kiosk is shaped roughly like a video arcade game console but is designed to be wheelchair-accessible. The software is controlled via a simple interface developed to be accessible to a wide audience. All key presses provide a visual and auditory response. The software provides a menu-driven, simple, high contrast interface. The surfaces of the kiosk have colorful graphics over which are transparent, durable sheets embedded with Braille characters and tactile graphics. One of these panels provides a representation of Jupiter as seen across the electromagnetic spectrum. The other panel provides a scale representation of the planets of the Solar System. The unit renders the radio data as sound, as vibrations off a membrane mounted to the front of the unit, and as visual display on the screen. We currently are presenting visitors with samples of radio emissions from Earth, Jupiter and the Sun. Through animations tied to vocal descriptions and captions, the SSREK allow visitors to learn more about what these bursts tell scientists about conditions at Jupiter or the Sun.

Our Service to the Community

an image of students trying out the kiosk at the 2007 Youth SlamOver the last few years we have participated in several events in support of our partners. We supported the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind in August of 2007 for the "NFB Youth Slam" where approximately 200 high school students from across the country came to Baltimore to learn about science in a fun, interactive manner. In January 2008 we were again in Baltimore to support Ms. Noreen Grice of You Can Do Astronomy LLC in the kickoff for her new book entitled, "Touch the Invisible Sky". This book was produced in cooperation with the NFB and NASA with co-authors Simon Steel and Doris Daou. In February 2008 we helped NASA Goddard Space Flight Center present to Maryland legislators the contributions they make to the state's businesses, environment and the public. The SSREK was brought to the Annapolis state office building as part of a day-long exhibit of GSFC technologies.

Our Partners

We are working with the NASA E/PO project, Radio Jove. Their network of radio telescopes streams live data from sites in the USA and Europe. We also have access to their archive of several hundred sound files of Jupiter and the Sun. We have established partnerships with the Maryland Science Center (MSC) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) both in Baltimore, MD. They have assisted us in the design, development, testing, and execution of this project. Ms. Noreen Grice of You Can Do Astronomy LLC designed the tactile graphics and Braille text on the side panels of the kiosk. Touch Graphics Inc. manufactured these panels.

SSREK and Underserved Communities

The proposed SSREK is designed to provide the audio and visual capability to support different learning modes, thus making learning easier for the physically or developmentally challenged. We have worked closely with organizations that are already strongly devoted to reaching out to underserved/underutilized groups in science and technology. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Jernigan Institute is working to establish the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, a clearinghouse of information related to nonvisual methods for participating in science and the contributions the blind can make to scientific endeavors. Ms. Noreen Grice has published five astronomy books all with tactile graphics, text in print and in Braille. This project intends to empower ALL audiences especially students and the general public with disabilities to share in the excitement of space science discoveries.

The Future of SSREK

The Solar System Radio Explorer Kiosk project will have high potential for wide dissemination because, (a) the kiosk will be made to be portable, (b) the kiosk will be designed for low cost replication, and (c) much of the information will be accessible on the Internet free of charge. The portability of the kiosk is important because we envision the SSREK moved to different museum and educational sites. These sites include large and small museums, science centers, and planetariums, and other venues like shopping malls, and libraries. When not traveling the kiosk will be available to the public at NASA/GSFC's Visitor Center.
Since visitors spend a limited time at any given museum exhibit, they will be directed to the SSREK web site for more information. This site will also serve as an archive of the software and detailed plans of the project enabling other institutions to more easily replicate their own SSREK.
After the SSREK is built and tested, all the software and hardware design work will be made available for others to replicate. This would allow multiple kiosks to exist at different locations and, therefore, will allow for more access to students, teachers, and the general public. The costs to replicate the model will be relatively small (few thousands of dollars) such that individual museums or educational centers or schools could build their own kiosk.

Another component of the project is a fully developed and interactive set of web pages. These web pages, similar to the kiosk, will contain audio feeds from observatories, as well as information on historical and scientific aspects of Earth, Jupiter, and the Sun. Therefore this "remote" accessibility to the SSREK will greatly broaden the impact of this outreach project.

Active dissemination of the SSREK replication plans and software will be done with the assistance of MSC staff at educational, museum and planetarium meetings, e.g. the Association of Science-Technology Centers Annual Conferences, with special emphasis on Accessible Practices Workshops at those conferences.