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Newsletter Block VIII, Week Three

Don’t ask the mountain to move. Just take a pebble each time you visit.” – John Paul Lederach
Inside this Newsletter
  1. Physics + Theater: A Blue Straggler Story
  2. Innovation at CC Faculty Grants
  3. Innovation + OEC
  4. Opportunity: Collegiate Inventors Competition
  5. What have you created?
  6. Join the Innovation at CC Student Advisory Board
  7. Weekly Feature

Physics + Theater: A Blue Straggler Story

Colorado College Assistant Professor of Physics Natalie Gosnell and Innovator in Residence Janani Balasubramanian are in the process of developing a new experimental theater experience that explores Dr. Gosnell’s research area of blue straggler stars and the physics of mass transfer. Their project, entitled “A Blue Straggler Story,” creates an accessible learning experience for participants, regardless of their previous knowledge about physics. Engaging in the interactive, collaborative experience challenges participants to consider their connections to science and to their community, while also inviting them to consider the ways in which they think about their relationships to the sky.
Dr. Gosnell met writer and immersive experience developer Jananai Balasubramanian during Balasubramanian’s residency at the UCCS Heller Center in September of 2018. During the residency,  Dr. Gosnell’s Block 1 Astronomy course experienced one of Balasubramanian’s immersive, augmented-reality works at UCCS. Balasubramanian, who collaborates frequently with astrophysicists, presented a work focused on brown dwarfs, which are astronomical objects that are too large to be planets and too small to be stars. Dr. Gosnell subsequently assigned students to respond to the experience in a medium of their choice, sparking the question: What would introductory physics look like if students had a bit more freedom to interpret the material in a way that resonated with them more completely? It was in this context that Dr. Gosnell and Balasubramanian began brainstorming and developing an interactive experience centered on blue straggler stars.
They continued development of “A Blue Straggler Story” in December 2018 when Dr. Gosnell spent a week as Scholar in Residence at The Public Theater in New York City, where Balasubramanian is based. When Balasubramanian visited Colorado College. A cohort of CC students whose interests include art, design, marketing, and  physics, helped develop the experience through tests, design-thinking exercises, and ongoing feedback sessions. With the help of these students, Dr. Gosnell and Balasubramanian’s creation was tested publicly at CC as well as at UCCS. Originally planned to be a game, the student cohort helped "A Blue Straggler Story" evolve to its current form, which includes an individual audio experience, physical movement within the group, and a special, interactive book. The project’s ultimate goal is to turn A Blue Straggle Story into an experience that can be implemented in art or science spaces, to help make this complex solar phenomenon accessible to those who don’t consider themselves physicists, or even science-savvy. Beyond just scientific data, the experience uses playfulness and a sense of wonder to encourage participants to draw their own connections between astronomical interactions and human ones.

How it works  
A Blue Straggler Story is an immersive storytelling experience that explores the life of a single blue straggler star and its companion star. Participants gather in an open space and are given an illustrated book; narratives, instructions, and original music are delivered through audio headsets. The experience invites participants to observe, listen, and move through their space (and outer space!) and in doing so, build a more intimate understanding of, and relationship with, the universe around us. Intended for participants ages 12 and up, A Blue Straggler Story offers a new mode of science communication that transforms complex, cutting-edge research into a playful and accessible encounter with the wonder of astrophysics.”-- Jananai Balasubramanian
About Blue Straggler Stars
Dr. Gosnell’s research focuses on binary star systems, which make up about half of the stars in the sky. In other words, when you look up at the night sky, half of the points of light you see are actually two stars, orbiting each other. When one inevitably reaches the end of its life, known as the red giant phase, it dispels its mass to its partner star, rather than to empty space. This younger partner star takes on some of this extra mass, causing it to become bluer and hotter—an anomaly compared those around it. This process takes millions of years, which is only a small fraction of a star’s more than one-billion-year lifespan. This timescale is paralleled in the “A Blue Straggler Story” experience’s length, which takes only 20 minutes out of a human’s life.

The Why
I believe a liberal arts education in the sciences should allow students to explore scientific ideas in a cross- or
inter-disciplinary context
”, explains Dr. Gosnell. She continues, “Combining this with innovative teaching requires a revolutionary reimagining of the boundaries between disciplines.” Dr. Gosnell echoes Balasubramanian’s belief that “Art and science are porous, co-constructing fields.” Through this collaboration and future work, Dr. Gosnell hopes to provide truly interdisciplinary opportunities for students to interact with course material.
About the Creators:
Janani Balasubramanian is a writer and immersive (AR/VR) experience maker whose work has been presented at more than 160 stages across North America and Europe, including The Public Theater, MOMA, Abrons Arts Center, Andy Warhol Museum, Red Bull Arts, Ace Hotel, Brooklyn Museum, Asian American Writer's Workshop, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Residency support for this work has included the National Endowment for the Arts, Public Theater Devised Theater Working Group, Abrons Arts Center, University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, and Mount Tremper Arts. Balasubramanian is currently a 2018-2020 Van Lier fellow at the Public Theater and a 2019-2020 Jerome Hill Artist Fellow, as well as artist-in-residence with the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Current projects include Rogue Objects, a live audio game about a celestial object struggling with its consciousness; Harold and Okno, a Cold War era novel about an extraordinary friendship; and Night Chicken, a jazz musical about the double lives of farm animals.

Dr. Natalie Gosnell is an observational astrophysicist and Assistant Professor of Physics at Colorado College. Dr. Gosnell received her M.A. and Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before joining the University of Texas at Austin as a McDonald Postdoctoral Fellow. She returned to her Colorado College, her alma mater, as faculty in 2016. Dr. Gosnell uses space-based observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory, in addition to ground-based optical and near-infrared data, to determine the formation histories of objects such as blue straggler stars and X-ray binaries. Her research has appeared in the Astrophysical Journal, Astrophysical Journal Letters, Astronomical Journal, and The Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Innovation at CC Faculty Grants
Innovation at CC has launched a new program to support faculty members working on projects that align with Innovation’s main programmatic areas. We encourage projects that allow faculty to:
  • Develop creativity and mindfulness pedagogy within new or existing courses;
  • Conduct research on creative practice, creative problem-solving and mindfulness within disciplines;
  • Create new courses that place creative practice and mindfulness as foundational aspects;
  • Diversify teaching practices: team-teach with visitors, faculty, or staff in other departments; or develop new Block courses;
  • Involve visitors in class projects and assignments aligned with Innovation’s guiding questions;
  • Attend relevant workshops in creative pedagogy and mindfulness;
  • Explore creative problem-solving in real world contexts;
  • Develop pedagogy that takes theory into practice
Support for projects may include (but is not limited to): replacement of course release, course development funds, research funds, honoraria for visitors, course materials support, and travel funds (e.g. for research or conferences). Requests of up to $1,500 are reviewed on the last Tuesday of each Block. (Block 8’s deadline is: Tuesday, May 14).  Requests of over $1,500 are reviewed twice a year: (Block 8’s deadline is Monday, May 13) Awarded funds may be expended any time during the corresponding academic year. Please contact Jessica Hunter-Larsen with questions.
Read more about the application process and funding opportunity on the Innovation site.

Innovation + OEC

To celebrate both Earth Week and Pride, the Outdoor Education Center (OEC) hosted a series of events that blended the two in a weeklong Pride Outside event. As part of the week’s festivities, students gathered at Innovation at CC on April 23 to create an Inclusion Banner to be displayed at the OEC.

The event was hosted by Elyse Rylander, the founder and Executive Director of OUT There Adventures, and Britt McClintock, Eecutive-In-Residence in the Office of Outdoor Education who specializes in inclusivity. OUT There Adventures is a 501(c)3 adventure education organization committed to cultivating leadership and building community for LGBTQ young people through professionally facilitated experiential education activities.

The banner was created from repurposed pieces of tents, rain jackets, tarp, ropes, PFD, and bike tires. Annabelle O’Neill (’19), a Student Inclusion coordinator for the OEC, explains that “Because CC’s outdoor culture has traditionally been exclusive to certain identities, we wanted to make a banner that was representative in both its message and its process of reclaiming the outdoors as a space for all identities. The nature of the banner, as made of numerous as reclaimed materials and colors, is a symbol of our mission to make outdoor spaces accessible and inclusive.

Opportunity: Collegiate Inventors Competition deadline, June 7

Each year, the National Inventors Hall of Fame brings together the nation’s most promising college students to showcase, recognize and reward their cutting-edge research and discoveries. Enter your idea for a chance to win cash prizes and a trip to Washington D.C. More information, visit their website.

What have you created during your time at CC?

Jane Hilberry, the Nancy Bryson and C. William Schlosser Professor in the Arts and Professor of Creativity and Innovation, will give this year’s Baccalaureate address on Saturday, May 18, which will focus on creativity and creation. In preparation for her speech, Hilberry is asking seniors: “What’s something you’ve created during your time at CC?”. Seniors had a chance to respond at the Senior Soiree.  Some of the responses included: 
  • A garden therapy program for those experiencing houselessness
  • A championship-winning, school-funded E-sports program
  • Better fraternities
  • A hell of a lot of trouble
  • A love of insects
  • A novel synthesis reaction using reactive benzenes
  • Intramural sport greatness
  • A more inclusive climbing space at the gym 
  • A low GPA
  • An analog synthesizer
  • A home with a garden
  • Felted wool crafts
  • A small business
  • Messes
  • The best friends I could have ever had
  • ME!

Join the Innovation at CC

Student Advisory Board

Innovation at CC is accepting students to join our Student Advisory Board. The Board’s mission is to advise, inform, and support the activities of Innovation at CC so that they uphold the strategic philosophy and remain relevant to students. The group meets every first week of the block in the Innovation space. If you feel invested in the success and growth of Innovation at CC and are interested in joining the Board, please email Alana at

Innovation at CC bids a fond farewell to Alana Aamodt (’18) and Aabhusan Khadka (’18), Innovation Paraprofessionals for 2018-2019. We thank them for all their hard work and energy.

Weekly Feature:
Listen to this episode of the Harvard Business Review's Ideacast to hear a
 theoretical physicist (and Entrepreneur) talk about why companies stop innovating.

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