GVU Brown Bag Seminar: Curtis Wong

Curtis Wong

The Past, Present and Future of the WorldWide Telescope


Five years ago, WorldWide Telescope was previewed at the TED Conference and the subsequent launch of www.worldwidetelescope.org was covered in featured in major press from the front page of the Science section of the New York Times and full page feature articles from USA Today to Newsweek and newspapers in other major cities in the US and abroad.

Since that time the audience for WWT has grown to over ten million regular users primarily through word of mouth with no advertising. It has been featured by Pixar in its premier of WALLE, the Emmy nominated kids show FETCH! and in theaters around the world in the opening of the film ONE Day on Earth. WorldWide Telescope has become a global resource with the major centers of activity on every continent on Earth with the top concentrations of users coming from London, Moscow, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, New York. WWT is being used in schools throughout the US as well as in countries from China to Poland and Chile to Israel.
This talk will cover the origins of WWT from a simple idea through development and launch to become a significant tool for astronomy education and visualization at the Harvard Center for Astrophysics to its recent incarnations as a spatial/temporal visualization platform to better understand problems like earthquakes to water pollution and its future in other domains.


Curtis Wong is a Principal Researcher in Microsoft Research focusing on interaction, media, visualization, gaming and storytelling. Curtis and his collaborators have built advanced prototypes which have shaped Microsoft products and been featured in executive keynotes on the future of media and computing. He has been granted more than 35 patents in a wide variety of areas. Curtis has devoted a portion of his time working with selected non-profit organizations to develop examples of next generation media such as his collaboration with PBS’s television series Frontline to produce The Age of AIDS on the global AIDS pandemic and the broadband enhanced documentary Commanding Heights ~ The Battle for the World Economy, winning a British Academy Award and nominated for the first interactive TV Emmy. His most recent work at Microsoft centers on enabling high performance interactive spatial temporal data visualization as a broad capability for everyone.

Recent educational projects include developing Project Tuva in collaboration with Bill Gates to make the Messenger Series Lectures by acclaimed Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist Richard P. Feynman freely available over the Internet in an innovative interactive player enabling links to simulations and detailed reference information linked directly from the lecture. Curtis is also a special advisor to Bill Gates working on a new transcription and translation of the Codex Leicester with some of the leading Leonardo da Vinci scholars in the world. Prior to Project Tuva, Curtis fulfilled a lifelong goal to build the WorldWide Telescope (WWT) which is a rich interactive learning environment to enable kids of all ages to explore and understand the Universe. WWT features an integrated rich media authoring, animation and playback engine to allow the creation of rich guided tours that look like HD movies with narration, music, graphics, text and animation but are fully interactive at any time with embedded links to information sources all over the Web. The tours are created by moving a virtual camera through the rich 3D environment to define paths that are rendered in real time within the rich visual environment. WWT has enabled more than ten millions of kids of all ages from every continent on Earth to explore the Universe and learn about astronomy from scientists and educators. WWT is installed in the Hayden Planetarium in New York, The Adler Planetarium in Chicago and the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and other cities to enable interactive exploration of the Universe by the public.

Prior to Microsoft in 1997, Curtis was Director of Intel Productions where he conceived and developed ArtMuseum.net, the first Broadband blockbuster art museum exhibition network on the World Wide Web. ArtMuseum.net featured faithful 3D recreations of concurrent art exhibitions in major museums such as American Century Exhibition at the Whitney Museum, Van Gogh’s Van Goghs at The National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Virtual Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam so that visitors to the virtual museum could see and closely examine the works of art as well as converse with other visitors to the virtual museum. Curtis was also responsible for creation of the first enhanced digital television program broadcast in the US - The Poetry of Structure accompanying the broadcast of the Ken Burns film Frank Lloyd Wright. Visitors would experience the broadcast digital television program and then enter the virtual environments of the most famous Wright buildings and virtually explore them with grandson Eric Lloyd Wright as their guide. Curtis was General Manager of Corbis Productions where he was responsible for the creation of a critically acclaimed series of CD-ROM's on art, history and science. His CD-ROM on Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester for Bill Gates in 1997 remains the state of the art in ancient manuscript interpretation for public and scholarly access. His CD-ROM A Passion for Art on the Barnes Foundation continues to be a best seller garnering accolades from NPR’s All things Considered, Newsweek, the New York Times and Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal called it “the greatest CD-ROM of any kind since the multimedia revolution began.”  

Before Corbis, Curtis worked for the Voyager Company where he was a senior producer for the Criterion Collection working with some of the top directors in Hollywood to produce special editions and digital restorations of feature films winning Video Magazine’s top award for the Last Picture Show and Jason and the Argonauts. Curtis was also responsible for the group producing Multimedia Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Amanda Stories and Pedro Meyer’s “I Photograph to Remember” which were three of the first multimedia CD-ROM's for Windows in 1991.

Curtis is an honorary professor of histories and humanities at Trinity College, Dublin Ireland. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the board of trustees for the Seattle Art Museum, the advisory boards for PBS Kids in Washington D.C., Experience Music Project in Seattle and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Curtis is a senior advisor to BGC3.com managing a transcription and translation project of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester with some of the leading Leonardo scholars in the world. He has previously served as a trustee for the Rhode Island School of Design and the advisory boards for Ovation - The Arts Network, PBS Online, and The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee for the National Constitution Center, the Canadian Film Centre, and the American Film Institute. He is a voting member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Astronomical Society. Curtis is included in TED conference creator Richard Saul Wurman's book, Who's Really Who: 1000 Most Creative Individuals in the USA and has been invited to speak and share his work at the TED conferences in 1997, 1999, 2008 and TEDx CalTech in 2011.

Curtis’ work has received numerous industry awards including the first interactive television Emmy nomination 2002, a British Academy Award, New York Film Festivals Gold Medals 1995, 1996, 1997, ID (International Design) Magazine’s Interactive Design Review 1997, Communication Arts Interactive Design Annual 1996 & 1997, many New Media Invision Gold awards, Time Magazine’s Best of the Web 1997. The WorldWide Telescope was awarded the ID (International Design) Magazine Annual Design Review, Best of Category: Interactive and AIGA Certificate of Excellence in Design for the 365: AIGA Annual Design Competition, and 2008 Time Magazine 50 best of the Web.

Event Details


  • Thursday, March 14, 2013
    11:30 am - 1:00 pm
Location: TSRB 132 (Ball Room)
Extra(s): Free food

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