IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Device Allowed Visually Impaired Student to 'Hear' Solar Eclipse

Students and faculty at a Connecticut high school helped a visually impaired student "see" the recent solar eclipse using LightSound, a small device developed at Harvard University in 2017 that converts light into sound.

Generic image of an eclipse showing the moon against a black starry sky with a bright yellow outline around it to indicate the sun shining behind it.
(TNS) — For the millions of people who safely experienced the solar eclipse on April 8, it was a sight to behold. But for 14-year-old Darby Lalumiere of Danielson, it was music to her ears.

With the help of students and faculty at EastConn's Quinebaug Middle College magnet school, the freshman, who is visually impaired, was able to experience the eclipse not by sight, but by sound.

About a week before the eclipse, Robin Miller, a Braille specialist and Darby's paraprofessional, began looking for alternative ways for her student to be part of the rare phenomena.

"I was looking around the Internet, and I had no idea what I was going to find," Miller said.

What she found was a device called LightSound, a small, rectangular box developed at Harvard University in 2017 that converts light into sound. When a small square on the devices captures the sunlight, it emits a high-pitched sound. But when the sun is covered during an eclipse, the sound diminishes until the sun is back into view.

Powered by a 9-volt battery or a USB cable, the sound can be heard through headphones or speakers.

After Miller shared her findings with school administrators and faculty, it was a race against time to get their hands on a LightSound. But when no such device could be acquired in time, it was time to get resourceful.

"I thought for a second, 'Who do I know that could build this,'" said QMC junior David Palmisciano of Danielson, who heard about the project from his Spanish teacher. "And I'm like, 'My God, I actually don't know anyone. I think I'm probably just about the only one that I know that could do it,' so I'm like, 'I'll do it.'"

Already owning a 3-D printer, David found online instructions on how to create one, printing it the Friday night before the eclipse. He said printing the LightSound took about 16 to 18 hours, making sure the printed pieces would fit together correctly.

As David took care of making the exterior of the device, Miller worked on acquiring the necessary components for the interior, purchasing the wiring and other necessities online.

"It just took on a life of its own. I was very impressed with everyone," Miller said. "Everything happened so incredibly fast."

Along with the LightSound, David printed pieces for a holder that connects his cellphone onto the lens of a telescope. By then placing the LightSound on top of phone, his phone and connected telescope would be better able to detect the light during the eclipse.

"It's a fairly small square, and the only thing that could detect the light is a very, very tiny gold chip in there, but it's an ultra-wide view," David said. "It has to only be looking at the sun. If it's seeing any other light, it's giving a false reading."

With the help of CT State Quinebaug Valley manufacturing instructor Will McManus, David got to work on the final stages of the device's construction on the morning of the eclipse.

"We got to work. We got all of the parts laid out, all of the wiring diagrams laid out," David said. "We soldered all the wires, screwed everything down."

But when a software issue plagued the project just one hour before the event, they quickly set out to fix it.

"We kept looking at the clock and saying, 'Can we hold up the eclipse?'" McManus said.

With all of the last-minute glitches, the experience for Darby went off without a hitch. As she listened to the sounds coming through her headphones, she said it reminded her of an otamatone, a type of Japanese synthesizer.

"It wasn't a super-fast thing like I thought it was going to be, it was just a gradual thing, which I thought was even cooler," she said.

Darby said that she thought it was "really cool" that she even had the option to experience the eclipse for herself, and that she was grateful to those who helped to make it happen.

"I was just going to let the eclipse pass me by," she said.

For David, it was an opportunity to not only get to use his skills and his 3-D printer, but an opportunity to help out a fellow student.

"I thought to myself, 'This is like a once-in-20-year event,' and by absolutely no means will I just sit back in my chair and go, 'Well I could've done it, I just didn't feel like it,'" he said.

©2024 Journal Inquirer, Manchester, Conn. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.