The W. M. Keck Foundation has awarded $250,000 to the University of Utah to establish a new undergraduate minor in dark sky studies, the first of its kind in the United States. Dark sky studies is an emerging field that explores the impacts of artificial light at night and the loss of our night skies through a broad range of disciplines. Housed in the College of Architecture + Planning, the minor is open to all students across the university and will explore issues through a myriad of lenses including the sciences, public health, urban planning, engineering, tourism, the arts, and the humanities.
“Exploring ways to bring faculty together from across the campus and create inspiring, transdisciplinary courses finally came together with the W. M. Keck Foundation’s invitation for proposals,” said Stephen Goldsmith, associate professor in the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning and principal investigator for the project. “Their award paves the way for the creation of new knowledge and invites creative responses to the challenges that surround the disappearing dark.”
The minor is the substantive next step for the U-based Consortium for Dark Sky Studies (CDSS), the first research center in the world focused on the interdisciplinary connections of artificial light and dark skies. The minor further illuminates the field.
A minor with major reach across campus
The minor in dark sky studies seeks to expand a new pedagogical model for transdisciplinary undergraduate studies. The minor’s core faculty reflect this philosophy, collaborating from all corners of campus to develop syllabi and refine courses that break down the traditional silos between different departments. These course instructors will become a new cohort of scholars in dark sky studies, providing them a platform for collaborating with peers from other institutions.
“The minor in dark sky studies provides students across campus with the opportunity to engage in highly relevant inquiry regarding a universally inspiring natural, cultural, and economic esource that is clearly disappearing due to human habitat,” said Keith Diaz Moore, dean of the College of Architecture + Planning.
Undergraduate research experience
The minor also offers undergraduates research opportunities. The first is inventing a new tool for understanding the impact of artificial light at night in areas affected by skyglow, a phenomenon in which artificial light scatters into the atmosphere and creates a diffuse glow that is visible across long distances.
In subsequent courses, students will use the new device to collect, map, and analyze data within communities along the Colorado Plateau interested in improving their night skies. The students will identify lighting hot spots and implement creative solutions, such as designing and installing cost-effective fixtures that address community needs. Additionally, the technology could be patentable and become a vital tool for the increasing number of communities looking to improve their night skies and boost astro-tourism in their areas.
“The dark skies minor will prepare students for the modern world by engaging them in truly integrated thinking and experience that locates their learning in the context of complex systems – an example of the best in undergraduate education at the University of Utah,” said Martha S. Bradley, senior associate vice president of undergraduate studies.
The W. M. Keck Foundation
Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The foundation’s grantmaking is focused primarily
on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering research, and undergraduate education. The foundation also maintains a Southern California grant program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth. For more information, please visit wmkeck.org.