Ahmanson Lab Collaboratories: 2018-2019

Terraforming Mars

Coordinators:

Vahe Peroomian, Physics & Astronomy
Dana Milstein, Writing Program

Students:

Huiyeon Eim (Environmental Studies, Informatics with Honors in Multimedia Scholarship)
Emily Liu (English; Political Economy; Environmental Studies; Computer and Digital Forensics)
Angel-Emilio Villegas Sanchez (Physics; Philosophy)
Abhishek Sharma (Biology; Consumer Behavior)
Cole Schroeder (Computer Science)
Elisabeth Vehling (Informatics, Cognitive Science)

Special Guests:

Greg Autry, Assistant Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship, Marshall, USC
Brian Cantrell, World Building Media Lab, USC
Kevin Gill, NASA/JPL
Erik Loyer, Creative Technologist

Description:

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Mars and its potential habitability have intrigued humanity for centuries.  Since 1965, when the Mariner 4 spacecraft found Mars to be a lifeless, barren world, our imagination has taken a new turn--that of terraforming Mars and making it habitable for humans.  Students in this collaboratory were guided through a multidisciplinary approach to the problem of terraforming: they reviewed scientific and science fiction literature, built self-contained ecosystems in which plants were grown in simulated Martian soil, attended active learning sessions about Mars, and used fishbowl discussions and worldbuilding tools to visually explore possibilities of a terraformed Mars of their own design. Students also explored the social, political, geological, and environmental impacts of a terraformed Mars.

Outcomes:

Ecosystems + Scientific Posters

Students worked in two teams to simulate how plants thrive in Martian soil Using a three-chamber ecosystem with digital sensors to capture environmental elements (i.e., oxygen levels). They recorded sensor data and visual observations in their lab notebooks over an 8-week period. The project culminated in a peer-reviewed academic paper and scientific poster that each team presented as part of a mock academic conference. Learning objectives included team building, understanding the ethics of scientific research, interpreting and visualizing data, and designing and presenting scholarly materials.

 

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Terraforming Mars VR

Students worked with Brian Cantrell from USC’s World Building Media Lab to research, speculate, and sketch out future aspects of a terraformed Mars, ranging from infrastructural and energy needs to the cultural and social makeup of early settlers. Students then worked with Ahmanson Lab staff and Erik Loyer, an award-winning creative technologist, to build out an annotated virtual reality experience of their speculative world. See more about Terraforming Mars VR on our digital projects page

 

 


Mapping and App-ing Los Angeles

Coordinators:

Geoffrey Cowan, University Professor and Annenberg Family Chair in Communication Leadership
Brianna Johnson, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy
Max Lu, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy
Jessica Ryan, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy

Students:

Mansi Ganatra (Data Informatics)
Pragati Gupta (Computer Science)
Nam Thai Hoang (Computer Science)
Naylee Nagda (Art, Technology and the Business of Innovation)
Nathan Ramo (Religion; Archaeology)
Pooja Mahadev Soundalgekar (Computer Science)

Special Guests:

Paige St. John,  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
Albert Lee, Multimedia Producer, Los Angeles Times.

Description:

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This collaboratory addressed the dual issues of a disjointed Los Angeles and a declining local press by working in partnership with the L.A. Times to create a mobile app for delivering immersive journalism. Students in this collaboratory explored ways to tell newsrooms stories using augmented reality, focusing, in particular, on large-scale environmental reports (e.g. stories about floods, hurricanes or fires) that when read, are often hard to visualize. In designing the mobile app, students experimented with, and prototyped, a method for using augmented reality as a way to move a user through a news event, or series of events, as if they were experiencing it in real-time.

 

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Outcomes:

Students in the Mapping and App-ing Los Angeles collaboratory conceived, designed, and coded an augmented realty app that tells the story of the destructive California Camp Fire by utilizing data and media assets provided by the L.A. Times. The Camp Fire app takes viewers through several sequential scenes: a 3D AR map controlled by an interactive timeline, displaying the spread of the fire over seventeen days; a gamified scenario in which users must rush to choose pets and household items that are overlaid on their existing environment (via their phone’s camera) before it catches on fire; and a clickable 3D gallery of Camp Fire victims.

 

 


Futures of Democracy

Coordinators:

Kiki Benzon, School of Cinematic Arts
Jeff Watson, School of Cinematic Arts

Students:

Kathryn Dullerud (Economics; Math)
Jordan Kessler (Theater; Psychology)
Iris Kim (Business Administration; Human Rights)
Cynthia Syren (Business Administration; Philosophy, Politics, and Law)
Mahira Raihan (Media Arts and Practice)

Description:

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Given the centrality of democratic political participation to the maintenance of civil society, the protection and expansion of human rights, the redress of historical inequities, and the confrontation of global-scale crises such as climate change, it is the responsibility of those of us who are able to restore, renew, and "harden" democracy in the face of the socially atomizing technologies and borderless oligarchies that underwrite its present malaise. But what are the fixes we need? Drawing on expertise gained from designing participatory imagination projects, professors Kiki Benzon and Jeff Watson (School of Cinematic Arts) will guide collaboratory members through the polymathic process of conceiving, designing, and deploying a large-scale transmedia creativity and imagination experience to engage the USC community, selected visionaries from arts and industry, and the public at large in envisioning futures wherein democratic governance is resilient and expansive, and where authoritarian anti-democratic movements are returned to the dustbin of history where they belong.

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Outcomes:

Students in the Futures of Democracy collaboratory designed and crafted a game kit intended to facilitate community and individual engagement with present-day issues through acts of playful speculation. The Futures of Democracy kit contains a series of games that allow players to explore democracy-related issues such as campaign finance, corruption, and political compromise. Students iteratively prototyped and demoed game mechanics that mirror and convey the way in which the political process, lobbying, and special interest groups affect policy. In June 2019, the students and faculty coordinators in the collaboratory presented the professionally produced game kit at Play and Democracy: The 5 biennial Philosophy at Play conference at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague.


Please email Curtis Fletcher at cfletche@usc.edu with any questions.