New Program Puts the Universe into View

People can now explore every known inch of the universe with the wave of a hand, according to astronomy professor Alyssa A. Goodman, who demonstrated Microsoft’s WorldWide Telescope Program at the Harvard Allston Education Portal on Thursday.

Allston-Brighton residents gathered to watch Goodman exhibit the computer program, which allows users to interactively explore and learn about millions of objects in the universe.

As one of the most comprehensive databases of astronomical information, the program was designed to visualize the universe for astrophysical research.

“This is better for [astrophysical] research than any other tools made before,” Goodman said.

Goodman emphasized the WorldWide Telescope Program as a tool for the general public and not just for practicing astronomers.

“[The program] has huge educational potential,” Goodman said, adding that users can go on personalized “tours of the sky” and bring their friends and family along for the ride.

“One of the main educational goals is for people to be able to use it as a story-telling platform,” she said, a point which she illustrated by showing the audience a six-year-old boy’s favorite nebula. “The way people learn anything is by telling themselves a story they can remember.”

According to Goodman, one Boston-area high school student called the telescope program “cooler than ‘Call of Duty.’”

Luke H. Black, a 12-year-old Allston resident who attended the lecture, said, “It’s cool getting to learn about all the amazing stuff out there.”

The lecture was part of the Ed Portal’s Faculty Speaker Series, which is intended to connect Harvard faculty to the Allston community.

According to Robert A. Lue, faculty director of the Ed Portal and professor of the practice of molecular and cellular biology, Goodman “takes very seriously the mission to communicate science to as many people as possible, the mission to get people excited about science.”

Lue’s articulation of Goodman’s goals fits the Ed Portal’s mission as expressed on its website, which is to build on “Harvard’s commitment to education beyond the classroom.”

Founded by Harvard in 2008, the Ed Portal offers a variety of tutoring, mentoring, and educational programs for the broader community.

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at mbarbergrossi@college.harvard.edu.

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