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‘The Cepheids’ computer animation sparkles among the stars

CSULA’s SciVi team project selected as a finalist in an international challenge

Screen captured image from The Cepheids animation.

To view The Cepheids computer animation by CSULA’s SciVi team, click here: http://sci-vi.calstatela.edu/TheCepheids.

Exploring pulsating stars and distance to galaxies, Cal State L.A.-produced computer animation, The Cepheids, has been selected as a finalist in the non-interactive media category of the 2010 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

With the adage that “science’s most powerful statements are not made in words,” the annual competition aims to communicate science, engineering and technology for education and journalistic purposes through creative media.

The Cepheids was created by a multidisciplinary team of Cal State L.A. students and faculty as part of the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project in Science Visualization or SciVi.

The seven-minute animation tells the story of early 20th century astronomer Henrietta Leavitt and of her discovery of the so-called “period-luminosity law for a particular kind of variable stars known as Cepheids.” This discovery has been described as “providing the first and still essential method to find distances to galaxies, which lead to our modern day picture about the structure of the Universe and the discovery of its expansion.”

About SciVi:

Funded by NSF, the SciVi at Cal State L.A. was officially called the Integrated Training Pipeline for Scientific Visualization. Working in collaboration with Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), SciVi trained undergraduate and graduate students from three different disciplines—art, physics and astronomy, and computer science—to develop accurate and effective scientific visualizations of topics in cosmology and to implement their public dissemination. The SciVi lab environment fostered formal and informal collaboration between students through which physicists, artists and computer scientists shared their expertise and honed their aesthetic and technical skills while developing computer animations, computer games, and interactive web applications. This brought the current understanding of origin and structure of our Universe to the general public.

Directed by Cal State L.A.’s Art graduate student Dallim Park, The Cepheids was part of Park’s M.A. thesis project, “Desk of One Astronomer,” which garnered a Rosebud Award in the interactive design category at the 2009 CSU Media Arts Festival. The entire project was produced and supervised by SciVi principal investigators—CSULA Professors Milan Mijic (Physics and Astronomy), Eun Young Elaine Kang (Computer Science), and Tony Longson (Art). Eleven more students contributed to the project with animations, story writing, programming, music, and background on physics and astronomy.

According to Professor Mijic, “The Cepheids is basically a love story. Henrietta Leavitt was a strange, strong character; one of the first women who made her mark in astronomy. Little is known about her life beyond records of her hard work. The animation clearly shows that what emerged from these many years of measurements was an unexpected mathematical relationship that enabled us to add the third dimension to our picture of the Universe. Henrietta Leavitt’s life might have been lonely, but her labor lives through work of generations of astronomers—it belongs to the stars.”

Winners of the competition will be selected by NSF and Science journal judges in each of five categories: photography, illustrations, informational posters and graphics, interactive games and non-interactive media. The winning entries will appear in a special section in Science and Science Online and on the NSF website. The official announcement of winners will be made in February 2011.

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Last Update: 12/16/2010