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Tom Varden
Crowd-funding Astronomy Outreach and Bringing Science to Burning Man
April 20, 2015

In the speech, I'll describe crowd funding and Burning Man and how the two allowed me to realize the dream of running my own Observatory without any math skills.

Crowd funding allows for crazy ideas to become a reality and provides a forum where people can vote projects into existence with their donations.

I'll discuss in detail the process of designing the dome with architect Gregg Fleishman and the geometry behind it as well as the process leading up to the first construction in a remote desert in Nevada.

Black Rock Observatory became part of the 4th largest city in the state, then after a week, the city vanished within a few days.

I want to share our unconventional way of sharing the sky and what we learned about raising money with the astronomy community.


Photo by Tom Varden

Tom inherited a love of space from his parents who took him to see 3 Space Shuttle Launches and many landings. He built a camera obscura to record a solar eclipse at age 10 and his love of photography and the planets led him to record the sublimating Northern polar ice cap of Mars in 2003.

Over the years, Tom has been an actor, musician and concert promoter, but currently works as a photographer in Los Angeles. Tom received a B.A. in Photography from California State University, Northridge.

Always interested in the intersection of science and art, Tom recently built Black Rock Observatory, a mobile wooden observatory dedicated to outreach that the New York Times described as "punk-rock astronomy" and the Huffington Post called "an art-meets-science installation the Carl Sagan would surely love."

Tom ran the third most funded public art Kickstarter in Los Angeles and continues to share the sky wherever he can.

The concept grew from Vardenís desire to give back to Burning Man and be a sounding board for its creative energy rather than a mere recipient. The Black Rock Observatory, designed by an artist and manned by scientists, attempts to bridge that divide. The Observatory, like Burning Man, is about getting people to look beyond their cellphone and computer screens and get inspired by interacting with each other in creative ways,

Tom says. ďItís the realization that you walk around in 4-4 time doing, doing, doing and you forget that ó surrender or not ólife is happening to you. Itís bigger than you. Itís amazing, itís beautiful and itís cacophonous,Ē he says.

ďThereís a huge, huge parallel between that and looking through a telescope.Ē
 


Photo by Tom Varden
     
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