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Minds over dark matter: A multisensory journey around the galaxy

Pictures courtesy of Charlie Jones and Lina Kabbadj from Imperial College London.

University of Sussex academics are helping to bring the feel and smell of deep space to one of Britain’s best-loved educational institutions.

Professor Marianna Obrist along with Dr Emanuela Maggioni, Daniel Hajas and Robert Cobden from the University’s Department of Informatics will be helping visitors at the latest Science Museum Lates event to experience dark matter.

In collaboration with Dr Roberto Trotta and his team at the Imperial College London, audiences will experience a multisensory installation at the event tomorrow night (Wednesday 31 October 31).

Professor Obrist’s team are creating a mid-air touch experience, developed by Ultrahaptics, integrated with smell and sound which will take audiences on a journey through the galaxy while relaxing in a dedicated space.

Professor Obrist, founder of the Sussex Computer Human Interaction (SCHI) Lab which explores how multisensory experiences can influence the design and interaction with future interactive technology, said: “We are really excited to have this opportunity to showcase our work and understanding of touch and smell to a whole new audience. It is great to be included in this celebration of the potential of engineering and informatics.”

Professor Obrist was named among the top scientists in the world under 40 in 2017 by the World Economic Forum and recently attended the forum’s Young Scientists Class of 2018 in Tianjin, China.

Last year, Professor Obrist was also selected as an inaugural member of the Association for Computing Machinery Future of Computing Academy - a platform that enables the next generation of researchers, practitioners, educators and entrepreneurs to develop a coherent and influential voice that addresses challenging issues facing the field and society in general.

Professor Obrist and her team are one of the first teams of scientists from the University of Sussex to appear at the long-running Science Museum Lates series.

Dr Maggioni, research fellow in the University of Sussex’s Department of Informatics, said: “We approached this project by thinking about how the different senses could be exploited and combined to make people experience a complex and fascinating physics concept such as dark matter.”

Daniel Hajas, PhD student at the SCHI Lab with a background in theoretical physics, added: “It is great that we can showcase this experience on Dark Matter Day and use our sense of touch for something we cannot see.”

Science Museum Lates were introduced a decade ago to tailor science events towards a young, cool and fun adult audience.

Around 2,000 visitors are expected to attend the latest free event in the series in support of The Year of Engineering - a government campaign which celebrates the world and wonder of engineering and designed to inspire the next generation of innovators and problem solvers.

As well as a series of demonstrations, attendees will be able to enjoy access to bars, live music and a silent disco.

Aran Shaunak, Events Programmer at the Science Museum, said: “This Lates is all about showcasing the huge variety of fields encompassed by the term engineering. Marianna and Roberto have together created a totally unique way of experiencing one of the most abstract concepts in the universe, which perfectly highlights the exciting and unusual places that engineering can take us.”

By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Tuesday, 30 October 2018