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 who will explore issues through the lens of science, including in public health, urban planning, engineering, and the humanities, from religion to history and philosophy.
“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.”
Students will also participate in field-based research, including developing new technology to measure light pollution. 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 issues.
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 consortium’s role as an international leader in the field.
“Dark sky studies is a truly interdisciplinary field engaging disciplines ranging from the humanities, urban planning, and tourism to STEM and health,” said Daniel Mendoza, one of the minor’s core faculty members, whoholds joint appointments in the Department of Atmospheric Sciencesand the Division of Pulmonary Medicine. “The University of Utah has been leading the way since the inception of the CDSS and, with the generosity of the Keck Foundation, we are establishing the groundwork for continued educational and research opportunities.”