Interactive astronomy software produced by graduate students

Visit this page to try all the AY 201b students' online modules.

Visit this page to try all the AY 201b students’ online modules.

If you’ve been following Yuan-Sen Ting’s recent series of Astrobites, “Neutral Hydrogen in the Universe,” you may have seen his amazing interactive simulation of the Lyman alpha forest phenomenon. Yuan-Sen’s work is part of a remarkable set of modules, ranging from exhaustive Worldwide Telescope tours to wonderfully illustrative javascript and Wolfram/Mathematica demonstrations, to elaborate python simulation and data visualization software. Each one is accompanied by explanatory material, with versions targeted at undergraduate students as well as more advanced discussion at the graduate level. All of these are available for teachers and students anywhere to use already, and in the future some will be available through the EdX/HarvardX platform.

These modules were developed as a part of the AY 201b course at Harvard. For the course, we (Professor Alyssa Goodman, Chris Faesi, and I) asked each graduate student to develop an online software module that they could use to teach their peers, and other students around the world, about one aspect of the interstellar medium. Our goal was to go beyond the standard term paper project — to introduce the students to new technical and communication tools alongside their research on a particular concept from the curriculum.

arXiv:1308.1908, our paper describing how astronomy students have created amazing online interactive modules for education as part of a graduate course.

arXiv:1308.1908, our paper describing how astronomy students have created amazing online interactive modules for education as part of a graduate course.

These modules are a great complement to the work we do at Astrobites and our new project, Astroplots. Each student has picked a concept from astronomy and sought to make it more accessible. We do that through research articles on Astrobites. through figures on Astroplots, and these students have done it using interactive technologies.

You can see all the students’ finished modules at the AY 201b website.

If you would like to know more about how these modules were developed, see the paper we posted on the arXiv today. We hope this software will be a useful resource to Astrobites readers, and may even prompt you to create your own modules!

Have you made a software demonstration or interactive simulation of this kind? Have you seen other exciting takes on the traditional term project? Please leave a comment below or send us a note.

About Nathan Sanders

I am one of the members of the team that founded Astrobites in 2010 and a co-founder of ComSciCon, the Communicating Science Workshop for graduate students. I earned my Ph.D. in astronomy at Harvard University in 2014, focusing on observations of supernovae and their host galaxies; investigating how massive stars explode and enrich the interstellar medium. I did my undergraduate work at Michigan State University.

Leave a Reply

Astrobites is hiring! Click here to apply!