Sophia David '21 featured in Science News for Students

In April, FCS senior Sophia David was featured in Science News for Students for her research in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania on how humans trace patterns of stars in the night sky. 

The project Sophia worked on was about understanding why people from different cultures and time periods perceived star constellations in similar ways. She began working on this project during the summer after her junior year. She decided to take a chance and reach out directly to Danielle S. Bassett, Professor of Physics, Astronomy, and Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, after reading some of the professor’s research. Sophia was thrilled when Danielle Bassett allowed her to work in the lab. 

After going through the approval process, Sophia began her project in the Complex Systems Lab at Penn. As described on its website, the lab studies “biological, physical, and social systems by using and developing tools from network science and complex systems theory.” At the Complex Systems Lab, Sophia had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of postdoctoral fellows, doctoral students, and undergraduate students. “Everyone at the lab has different areas of expertise, and Dr. Bassett knows who to put you in touch with if you need help with a certain thing. Everyone was so willing to teach me,” she said.

As described in the Science News article, Sophia and team’s research led to the demonstration of three factors that “can explain why certain groups of stars form such recognizable patterns. One is how bright the stars are. Another is how far apart they are. And a third has to do with how human eyes move.”

“The researchers thought about how the eyes travel across this night sky. Human eyes tend to move in discrete jumps, called saccades (Seh-KAADS). That’s when both eyes quickly shift from one point of interest to another. The team created a computer simulation based on the distribution of saccade lengths. They also included two basic details of the night sky as seen from Earth. The first was how far apart different stars appear from one another in the sky. The second was how bright various stars are.” (Excerpted from the Science News article)

Sophia had the opportunity to present the team’s findings, Free Energy Model of the Human Perception of a Starry Sky, on March 18 at an online meeting of the American Physical Society

During her time at Friends’ Central, Sophia expressed that she has really enjoyed being part of the Science Core Team. “I love Mr. Gruber,” she said, “and Friends’ Central has a very supportive environment.” Sophia will be heading to Yale in the fall, and she’s not yet sure what she will major in. “I really like what I’m doing now, and I like computational biology and network science,” she said, “but I also really like writing and debate, so I don’t know!”

Read the full article in Science News for Students here

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