On Tuesday, I had an incredible educational experience that was unlike anything I've ever done before. My class took a trip to the UCLA Meteorite Gallery, which is located in the Geology Building on the UCLA campus. The gallery boasts the fifth-largest collection of meteorites in the United States and the largest collection on the West Coast. As I walked around the gallery, I learned that meteorites are rocks that fell to Earth from space and hold valuable information about the history and formation of the Solar System. It was fascinating to see these rocks up close and learn about their unique properties.
Before entering the gallery, my class stopped by a classroom where a Ph.D Geology student named Valeria was preparing for a class about topography. She had set up an installation that used augmented reality and a container of sand to demonstrate how different levels of elevation can be represented through contour lines and a color scale. This device is called the TopoBox and is used for teaching concepts of topography, geography, natural sciences, watershed, and computer sciences. The TopoBox uses depth-sensing technology to label the topography of a landscape as the sand is pushed around the surface. The TopoBox is an excellent example of using sensors and AR technology to enhance an educational experience while also incorporating a nice tactile element that really engages users. I was immediately captured by the sandbox once I stepped foot in that classroom, and I enjoyed the interactive learning experience it provided.
After visiting the meteorite gallery, our class moved on to the planetarium on top of the Astronomy Building in south campus. This was my first time inside of a planetarium, and it was a great opportunity to view space in a different way. Santiago, our guest speaker, used projection technology during his demonstration to effectively immerse us in space. Planetariums were originally created for visitors to go inside and see a representation of the heavens above through mechanical clocks that displayed complex celestial models. Now, planetariums are domed theaters with a planetarium projection inside.
Santiago first projected for us what the sky looks like with a lot of light pollution. It looked a lot like how the sky normally looks in Los Angeles, where the sky has a grey-ish brown-ish hue and no stars are viewable. This is because light pollution deprives the light from objects in the sky, like nebulas and galaxies, and increases the brightness of the sky background. When he slowly started removing the light pollution, the sky became more clear and clear until we got to see all the stars shining brightly in the sky. It was a beautiful sight to see and almost looked so real that I felt like I was outside stargazing.
Before we went around campus to collect dust, our group went to meet Santiago, an astrophysicist, to ask him about our final project. It was interesting to hear his perspective on our ideas, especially since he comes from an newer generation of scientists. I was surprised to learn that the newer generation of scientists has a significantly different view of science compared to the older generation. It made me realize that science is always evolving, and we must keep an open mind to new ideas and perspectives.
After our dust collection, my partner, Sue Bin, and I continued to work on our final project. We decided to explore the corruption of neural networks and human reliance on technology without even noticing it. We changed our original idea of making a hologram and instead decided to project our final video, which is a visualization of ChatGPT's DAN (Do Anything Now), a jailbroken version of ChatGPT. We also created a mockup of a brain analysis device and simulated humans directly communicating with AI, questioning what it means to be human. I'm excited to continue working on this project and seeing where our exploration of these topics will take us.