Recent technology developments raised communication into the next level in which remote contact can feel very real and geographical distance is no longer an obstacle. Students can take advantage of knowledge at various locations while interacting with the teachers in a natural and efficient way. Remote and online classes have already been implemented, they however often suffer from technical problems, making the experience somewhat limited. Despite the efforts invested in distance learning approaches, the number of students participating remotely in astrophysics classes remains today disappointedly small.
Our plan is to bring distance learning and teleconferences to the next level by using 3D Hologram Technology (3DHT) system between the Universities of Zurich (UZH) and Geneva (UniGE). We strongly believe that, using this advanced technology, the experience of participants to classes and workshops will be significantly improved compared to standard facilities. Such technology was recently adopted at CERN and found to exceed expectations. A growing literature on the subject is available, the corresponding hardware stays however highly versatile with prices varying by tow orders of magnitude. We propose to use the UniGE-UZH seed funding to clarify the needs, survey the available hardware, and chose the best solution compliant with the high-level requirements and budget constraints. At the same time a credible 3rd-party funding will be organised for the subsequent implementation of the project.
We'll begin with classes in planetary science, a field where the two institutes are complementary. Astronomers at UniGE are experts in exoplanet detection and characterisation while in UZH researchers are experts in theory and simulations of planet formation and interiors. Although research connection between the two institutes has already began within the NCCR PlanetS (to be continued in a Swiss Institute of Planetary Science; SIPS), we propose to expand the collaboration to teaching (undergraduate, graduate classes). This way we'll take advantage of the diversity of courses within the two institutes, expose students to a broader offer of topics, and increase the knowledge base in the field within Switzerland.
The project fits well the strategy for developing "the numerical university" in both institutions. The initiative is very timely, with the creation of a new Master in Astrophysics at UniGE in September 2019, with three orientations offered: planetary science, astrophysics, and instrumentation and data analysis. A Master in planetary science is also envisioned at UZH. We'll use the project to develop common teaching programs and enhance our collaborations. This approach will then develop to other disciplines across Science, and beyond.
We plan the entire project development over a period of one year, from September 2018 to a fully operational system available for the academic year 2019-2020. The proposed timeline includes defining high-level requirements for a successful distance-learning system and teleconferencing, a survey of the most recent available hardware solutions, the installation of dedicated class rooms in both institutes, and testing the system performances in various configurations. A special emphasis will be put on reciprocal interactivity. The requirement definition and hardware survey phases are the parts to be supported by the requested seed funding.