Current UGA student, Caleb Adams, has accomplished more already than most aspire to in a lifetime. He runs the most popular astronomy blog on Tumblr with over 147,000 followers, he helped build the first-ever music score viewing app on Google Glass, his startup, NeoGalactics, is striving to make space observation more accessible to all, and he’s currently interning at NASA; all at the age of 21. Caleb is one of those rare, brilliant young men who, after chatting with only briefly, you’re certain that immense success awaits. We recently spoke with the Dawgs’ busiest undergrad to learn more.
A Computer Science and Astro Physics double major, Adams started the Science and Astronomy blog when he was only 18. He covers a wide range of topics from our solar system to deep space and allows users to ask him anything directly. What began as a hobby, quickly evolved into a phenomenon on Tumblr and Caleb attributes this partially to luck and partially to design. “I engage my audience by trial and error. I see what they seem to like most and do more of that. I found that pretty pictures of space pull a lot of reblogs, shares, etc.,” he explains. “But, I’ve also had situations where thousands of people become engaged on a question I find mundane. I had to realize that there were a ton of people who want to become more scientifically literate. I try to share the knowledge I’ve gained and help fulfill other people’s curiosities. Tumblr isn’t known for being ‘techy’ and perhaps that’s the reason why I’m so successful on Tumblr because I was the first to market.” Being first to market is something Adams and his team hope to achieve with NeoGalactics.
Utilizing his technical abilities, the NeoGalactics team aim to lower the current barriers to space observation. “If you look at the other large telescopes that track stars in a live feed, they cost thousands of dollars. Through research, we’ve shown that we’re able to do it for a fraction of the cost instead. We put a computer in the telescope; we’re using less hardware and more software to make this happen,” explains Adams. “The software we’ve written allows users to have a live feed on the Internet and viewers don’t have to be in the same physical location as the telescope to change the view. That’s something that’s completely new. Only astronomers currently have access to those technologies.”
The NeoGalactics Team
The NeoGalactics Telescope
“There’s a desire for easy access to this stuff. When I fielded this out to my followers on Tumblr, 1,000 people said yes in a few hours. My friends and I were like, ‘holy crap, we need to set up a website and get people’s emails to give them updates.’ We had 500 people sign up in the first 2 hours,” he continues. “In addition to that, NeoGalactics is working to help design UGA’s first cubesat. It’s a small satellite, smaller than a toaster, that’s incredibly cheap to build (1/100 of the cost) and you can test out your equipment in space. With the ELaNa program (Educational Launch of Nanosatellites), NASA allows students and educational organizations free rides on their rockets going into lower orbit. We’re piggybacking off that idea and are testing live feed video images and different data of the planets. We’ll stream them back to our website to get real access to space. We’re hoping to have a Kickstarter to get this going.”
As an undergraduate researcher, Adams has researched Google Glass extensively with both The Home Depot and with Hodgson Glass Research Lab. The latter is interested in furthering wearable technology for music pedagogy and performance. Assisting Director of Bands, Dr. Cynthia Turner, and graduate researcher, Tyler Ehrlich, he and the team created Score Viewer, an app that renders images of notation and uses a series of winking and touch gestures to move between pages. “Dr. Turner Tyler were a big help. Allowing musicians to view their music right in front of them and engage with their audience at the same time was an awesome project to be apart of,” he says. “Next year, we’re designing the first smart, touch screen podium that can interface with Google Glass and smartphones.”
Caleb programming at NASA
Today, Caleb is interning at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston in a lab called the HIVE (Human and Integrated Vehicle Environment). “I work with flight software and interface that with different displays astronauts would use on the Orion spacecraft. Right now, I’m also working on audio systems and audio transmission. If two spacecrafts need to dock, they need to be in communication with each other,” he explains. “I’m being overseen by people who are much smarter than me. I build stuff and break stuff a lot.”
Going forward, Adams is unsure of what the future holds for him, but he’s proud to represent his school and is excited about the prospect of working for the world’s premier space agency. “If you are a co-op at NASA, you have 98% chance of getting a job,” he says. However, he’s also determined to continue building NeoGalactics. No matter what route he chooses, it’s a safe bet that this Bulldog will be a leading innovator for years to come.