Episode 27

Jenn Kotler on Astronomical Sonification and Designing UX for Science & Open Data


April 26th, 2022

42 mins 35 secs

Your Hosts
Special Guest

About this Episode


Jenn Kotler


Richard Littauer | Memo Esparza | Eriol Fox | Django Skorupa

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain Open Source Design! The podcast where we talk about sustaining open source with design. Learn how we, as designers, interface with open source in a sustainable way, how we integrate into different communities, and how we as coders, work with other designers. Today, we have the wonderful Jenn Kotler joining us! Jenn is a User Experience Designer at the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST), where she designs data search and analysis tools for telescope missions including Webb, Hubble, TESS, and Kepler, all available for free use. Jenn fills us on what she does at MAST, the different types of data they look at, and how she uses this data in her job to make it accessible so everyone can do amazing science. We learn more about sonification, Jenn’s thoughts of her ideal scenario of bringing the design community into the open source space, and something that’s difficult about being a designer in a space where there’s not a lot of other designers. Go ahead and download this episode now!

[00:02:28] Jenn fills us on what she does at MAST.

[00:04:19] We learn how many people work in the archive with Jenn and how many people work at the Institute that have access to use the archive.

[00:05:36] Jenn explains about the different types of data they look at and how she facilitates that as a User Experience Designer.

[00:08:27] Find out how Jenn ended up working at MAST and in the science field, and how she focuses on the data after it’s gone through a pipeline and a lot of adjustments have already been done to it.

[00:12:45] We hear a great explanation of what sonification is and then Jenn talks about her experience with it, and there’s an actual audio of a sonification she plays.

[00:17:16] If they are using sound and light in terms of images, Richard wonders if Jen could combine them and have people play a video game where they walk through a world of seeing different visualizations.

[00:18:44] Jenn breaks down accessibility and how they want this data to be accessible and approachable to everyone, since it’s free.

[00:23:44] Django wonders how Jenn balances accessibility in the effort of producing a clean user experience for the max number of people. She explains the methods they’ve been using.

[00:27:41] Eriol asks Jenn to talk about her ideal scenario of bringing the design community into the open source space where she works, and whether design science fiction comes into that space.

[00:31:18] We find out what’s difficult for Jenn right now and what she wishes she could change for the better.

[00:37:25] Find out where you can follow Jenn on the web.


[00:10:49] “If there’s a topic or subject you’re interested in it’s really great to explore and find the place that needs a designer but doesn’t even know it.”

[00:22:10] “If you’re able to use a computer there isn’t a great reason you shouldn’t be able to do astronomy if you have an interest in it.”

[00:29:30] “That was the thing that excited me about sonification initially, this idea of there’s so much value here and just an art, forget science, there’s a lot of cool things that could be made with this.”

[00:36:28] “In the past I struggled with feeling like I used up all this creative energy on something that is so boring and then I had nothing left for myself.”


  • [00:38:05] Eriol’s spotlight is a Coordinate Tool for No Man’s Sky called NMSCoordinates.
  • [00:38:44] Memo’s spotlight is a book that changed his life called, Nightfall.
  • [00:39:14] Richard’s spotlight is Tehching Hsieh, who’s a Performance Artist.
  • [00:39:37] Django’s spotlights are an open source project called Open Foundry and Compositions 1960.
  • [00:41:02] Jenn’s spotlight is a book she read called, Sitting Pretty and her favorite font, Atkinson Hyperlegible.