Wanda Díaz-Merced Hears the Stars

Wanda Díaz-Merced is an astronomer.

Wanda Díaz-Merced always wanted to be a scientist. While growing up in Puerto Rico, she took pretend trips to faraway galaxies. As she got older, she began to really study the universe. She became an astronomer. 

But in her 20s, Díaz-Merced lost the ability to see. Astronomers depend on their sense of sight. How could Díaz-Merced study the stars if she could not see them? 

Another Way to Show Data 

Astronomers also get information about stars by looking at graphs. Graphs help them see data about stars, like how the brightness of a star changes over time. Díaz-Merced realized if data about stars could be seen, they could also be heard.  

Sonification is the use of sound to represent data. Díaz-Merced used a computer to turn large sets of data about stars into sound. She gave each piece of data its own sound. She used different pitches, volumes, and rhythms. Now she could listen to the data. She could study the universe through sound. 

A More Complete “Picture” 

A group of stars surrounded by gas and dust

Díaz-Merced discovered something interesting. She could hear patterns in the data that her sighted peers couldn’t see. She says using only the sense of sight to study the universe can lead to missed discoveries.  

Díaz-Merced hopes more astronomers use sonification. It will not only help more people be able to study the stars; it will provide a more complete “picture” of the universe. 

What Do You Think? Why is it important to find new ways to study the universe?  

Reading Response Click on this link to respond to your reading. Print out the response page or upload it to your classroom site. 

What’s the Big Idea? 

Photo Credit: (t)NG Images/Alamy Stock Photo, (b)NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and A. Aloisi (STScI/ESA)