Light Pollution is a serious environmental problem that alters our ecology and our experience of the night sky. Inhabitants of major cities often cannot see more than a few stars. More than just a cosmetic issue, light pollution affects human circadian rhythms and has known health effects. Light pollution has also been shown to interfere with bird migration by diverting them from their normal flight path.
For this project I focused on Light Pollution and Bird Migration. Within this topic I experimented with lighting design and learned how properly positioned and designed lights can reduce the amount of light cast into the sky without negatively impacting the humans living on the ground. I also explored avian geospatial data and built an interactive map that shows which birds are most affected by light-polluted areas. I went to the park to go "birding" and learned how to use a compass to navigate using the earth's magnetic field. Building on my research, I designed an analogous "wildlife crossing" system for birds that can help mitigate the affects of light pollution.
In this class I learned many new approaches for in-depth learning about a topic. The two most important concern "embodied knowledge" and the use of the library.
I spent a lot of time in the library this semester, both for this class and my Redefinition of Art class. Previously I didn't spend a lot of time there, relying on what I can find on the Internet. It is clear from both classes that the library has much richer resources available and that limiting myself to just the Internet leaves me with many gaps in my understanding. I checked out more books this semester than I did in every previous semester combined (including my first graduate degree at NYU). I also used inter-library loans for the first time. Going forward I'm going to leverage the library's resources more often.
For this project I also learned the value of "embodied knowledge" through experiments with the 7-day daily practice, birding, and orienteering. Previously I would have dismissed such activities as irrelevant for learning about a subject but clearly that is wrong. I found them to be thought provoking while also being fun. I also like how doing this tested my ideas against reality. For example, it quickly became clear to me how well I actually understood how to navigate with a compass.
One of the most inspiring things about this project, beyond the new approaches for learning mentioned above, is working with geospatial data. This was super interesting to me and I am motivated to explore this in greater depth.
One thing I would have done differently is I would have been better prepared for my final presentation. I had some difficulties balancing work for this class with work for my other classes. Conveniently two of them involved time at the library, so that reduced the amount of running around I had to do. Still, the weekend before my presentation my time was split between three final projects and there wasn't much time left to practice a presentation.
One next step for me is to explore geospatial data and learn more about the available tools for working with that kind of information. As NYU students we get free access to powerful tools like ArcGIS, ArcScene, and ArcMap. I have the winter break coming up and it is worth giving a try. Also there are great Python libraries available like GeoPandas and GDAL. I worked with them a bit for this project but it is clear there is a lot more to know. In any case the idea of making my own maps is extremely intriguing. It happens geospatial data is (mathematically) related to my intended thesis topic and I will do some exploration in that area next semester or after I graduate.
Another next step is to continue to consider ways of pursuing "Embodied Knowledge" in my projects. I'd like for this to become part of my default mode of thinking about things, and the best way to make that happen is to actually do it repeatedly in the near future. Also, what are things I could have done for past projects? It's worth thinking about as I develop this new way of thinking.