NASA’s Push for Inclusion Leads to Exciting News for Our Eclipse Soundscapes Project

In July, NASA bolstered its commitment to diversity in science by adding “inclusion” to its list of core values. (The pre-existing values are teamwork, safety, excellence, and integrity). In the announcement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “Incorporating inclusion as a NASA core value is an important step to ensuring this principle remains a long-term focus for our agency and becomes ingrained in the NASA family DNA.”

NASA has spent the last decade reforming its image to be a model for equal opportunity, diversity, and inclusion, both in the federal government and in the nation as a whole. Some recent endeavors that align with these goals include translating key NASA documents into a variety of languages, and renaming cosmic objects (like nebulae) whose nicknames hold racist and ableist connotations. “Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told NASA’s news service.

The Science Mission Directorate is prepared to put its money where its mouth is when it comes to grant funding. One of NASA’s competitive, highly sought-after grants comes from the Science Mission Directorate’s Science Activation Program, also known as SciAct. SciAct grants connect NASA science experts with communities to “do science in ways that activate minds and promote deeper understanding of our world and beyond.” SciAct is especially interested in projects that broaden participation of under-represented and under-served learners in order to maximize engagement and advancement of STEAM knowledge.

…Which leads us to our big announcement!

Announcing the Eclipse Soundscapes Citizen Science Project

The Eclipse Soundscapes: Citizen Science Project (ES:CSP), an enterprise of ARISA LAB, is honored to be chosen as one of 27 recipients of a five year SciAct Grant, set to begin in 2021. ES:CSP will be supported by NASA under award No. 80NSSC21M0008.

Eclipse Soundscapes originally launched to make the “Great American Eclipse” of 2017 accessible to everyone, with a special focus on users who are blind or low vision. Its cornerstone project was a mobile application, available for iOS and Android devices. The app includes real-time illustrative audio descriptions of eclipses, as well as an interactive “rumble map” that allows users to conceptualize an eclipse through touch and sound. The 2017 project was funded by the NASA Space Science Education Consortium.

“The Eclipse Soundscapes Project began three years ago with the intention of making the 2017 total solar eclipse exciting and engaging for everyone, including people who are blind or low vision,” said Dr. Henry Winter, who co-founded ARISA Lab alongside MaryKay Severino. “We are excited to work with NASA and our partners to build the necessary tools to allow everyone to perform real and meaningful scientific research as equal participants.”

Eclipse Soundscapes’ new project will introduce accessible opportunities for citizen scientists to participate in eclipse research. With the help of citizen scientists, NASA subject matter experts (SMEs) will collect audio recordings from eclipses and analyze acoustic data to determine how disruptions in light and circadian rhythms may affect ecosystems. The data will include soundscapes recorded by the National Park Service and Brigham Young University during the 2017 total solar eclipse, as well as recordings to be taken during the 2023 annular eclipse and 2024 total solar eclipse.

These recordings will be central to ARISA’s informal learning initiative, which is focused on fostering self-efficacy in under-represented learners. Under the guidance of NASA SMEs, citizen scientists will participate in 20-week workshops surrounding each eclipse. They will undergo training, collect and analyze eclipse acoustic data, and earn virtual badges upon completing the program. All workshops, materials, and learning interfaces will be designed to the highest degree of accessibility, with a focus on physical, social, and cognitive inclusion.


The mission to make science accessible to everyone will be supported through a number of partnerships.

Bioacoustic Advisory Board

An advisory board of bio-acoustic scientists will help guide ARISA in the analysis and interpretation of the soundscape data. The board consists of Dr. Megan McKenna of Stanford University’s Goldbogen Lab, Dr. Bryan C. Pijanowski of Purdue University’s Center for Global Soundscapes, Dr. Laurel Symes of The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, and Sound and Light Ecology Team Research Associate Dr. Jacob Job.

“This project provides a wonderful, accessible opportunity for people to engage across scales, from lunar movements down to the smallest sounds of earth,” Dr. Laurel Symes said.

Dr. Jacob Job addressed the importance of the project to conservation. “ES:CSP makes the natural world accessible to more people, which is essential to recruiting more advocates for the conservation of the natural world, and our future,” he said.

Accessibility Consultants and Evaluators

The National Federation of the Blind, The GBH National Center for Accessible Media, and BLV Consultant Lindsay Yazzolino will provide external evaluations and accessibility consulting to maximize the reach of the project.

“As a totally blind researcher and lifelong STEM enthusiast, I’m a huge fan of citizen science,” Lindsay Yazzolino said. “However, I’ve discovered that many existing citizen science projects rely on visual methods for data collection and analysis, and therefore exclude so many blind individuals who would otherwise love to participate. I’m thrilled to work with the rest of the Eclipse Soundscapes team to create opportunities for blind citizen scientists to engage in exciting, impactful, and completely accessible hands-on science projects while contributing valuable scientific knowledge in the process.”

Mark A. Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “By participating in this project, we are helping to develop innovative nonvisual tools for blind people to explore a dramatically visual experience through sound and to create opportunities for blind citizen scientists to learn and contribute to the body of knowledge we gather about our universe.”

Inclusive Web Interfaces

Regine Gilbert and her students in the Integrated Digital Media Program at New York University Tandon School of Engineering will design, implement, and test ES:CSP web interfaces.

“It’s important that students get hands-on experience,” Regine Gilbert said. “My students will have the opportunity to use their design skills to create an accessible and inclusive
interface as part of the ES:CSP.”

Subject Matter Experts and Educational Materials

The NASA Space Science Education Consortium (NSSEC) will assist with networking and promotion of NASA SME-led events, and its STEAM Innovation Lab will produce tactile and accessible education and presentation materials.

“When we worked with the ARISA Lab team on the development of Eclipse Soundscapes for the 2017 eclipse, we knew the work couldn’t stop there” C. Alex Young, NSSEC Principal Investigator said. “By incorporating accessible citizen science and NASA SMEs into the project, this new phase of the program brings their work to the next level of inclusivity and impact.”

The Eclipse Soundscapes Citizen Science Project is excited to join NASA in their ongoing mission to make science and space accessible for all. Stay tuned for more exciting developments in 2021.

Disclaimer: Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.