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Sonification World Chat

What is sonification?

When looking at a line graph or scatter plot, do you notice how you can distinctively notice trends points based on the way that the data is positioned?  Sonification takes this data and transforms it into nonverbal audio. Higher pitches represent larger data points, and lower pitches represent smaller data points. Line curves tend to use smooth (legato) pitches, and scatter plots tend to use sharpet (staccato) pitches.

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The video to the left is an example of what sonification is and one of the many ways it can be used. It is part of a project created by Geneva Lakes Astrophysics and S.T.E.A.M to teach the astronomical data analysis concept of period folding. Many sonification projects are created to promote low-vision accessible education and research.


Period folding is a difficult concept to teach to sighted students. It’s especially difficult for blind/low vision (BLV) students to grasp because it involves analysis of light from astronomical objects that pulsates at regular intervals. Through sonification and the use of large, high-contrast images, staff and interns at Geneva Lakes Astrophysics and STEAM developed a video that makes period folding accessible to BLV students. It’s also friendly to English-language learners because the content is paced in a way that allows students more time to make sense of new vocabulary.  Accurate captions also support language acquisition.

Period folding is a mathematical technique for stacking light measurements taken over a period of several days, months, or years over a graph to measure the variability of a star. Sonification turns the light wave variability into sound wave variability. The sonifications were made using Astronify, a program developed by the Space Telescope Science Institute.


The video was a group effort involving interns Maire Lucero, Shiloh Miller, and Sofiia Lauten and GLAS Education staff Kate Meredith and Emily Sisco, with the help of Jen Kotler of the Space Telescope Science Institute, who provided guidance on the animations. Narration is by Maire Lucero. GLAS created the graphics. GLAS’s video was reviewed and edited by OPIS instructors. 


The GLAS video is based on the Skynet University video  “What is Period Folding?” by Aaron LaCluze of Central Michigan University. It is available on the Skynet University YouTube channel. Period folding information is from the Our Place in Space (OPIS!) curriculum, developed at North Carolina University at Chapel Hill.

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