Wanda Díaz-Merced is an astronomer from Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Growing up, she and her sister would imagine that they were flying into space and exploring. As an adolescent, Wanda Díaz-Merced began to realize her aptitude and great interest in science, particularly that of astronomy.
Wanda Díaz-Merced: Beginnings in Astronomy
A common misconception is that the subject matter of Astronomy is limited to just stars. However, Astronomy attempts to study celestial objects, space, and the universe as a whole. In her early career as an Astronomer, Wanda Díaz-Merced utilized her skills to study energetic explosions in distant galaxies known as a gamma ray burst. However, her study of this phenomena was cut short due to an extended illness causing her to lose her sight.
Unable to study data the way she had in the past, she had the realization that visual scientific data could be translated into sound. Because of this discovery, called sonification, she can do research at the same advanced level as before losing her eyesight.
How Wanda Diaz-Merced Heard Space Through Sonification
While sonification had existed in some form previously, it was Wanda Díaz-Merced's drive to create new sonification software that allowed the technology to be effectively used in the present-day field of astronomy. The software Wanda Díaz-Merced collaborated on analyzes astronomical data and converts it into sound, so that it can be heard instead of read.
Wanda Díaz Merced: Paving a way for people with disabilities
Through her breakthroughs in sonification, Wanda Díaz Merced helped shift the paradigm in the scientific community.
"I don’t want people with disability to have to pass through everything I had to pass through in order to contribute as part of the mainstream." Wanda Díaz Merced's determination and brave pursuit of her passion has opened the doors for a more diverse and accessible scientific community. As she says, "Science is for everyone. It has to be available to everyone, because we are all natural explorers."
Wanda Díaz-Merced's Ted Talk
Watch Wanda Díaz-Merced's inspiring Ted Talk to learn more about her work and experience with sonification.
Originally, posted on Sept. 27 2021. Updated February, 2023 for relevancy.