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To the Moon and Back: Math Grad Tyler Ham (B.A. ’06) Wins 2013 Webby Award

Tyler Ham, a 2006 graduate of the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has won a 2013 Webby Award for Best Science Website for his site, The First Men on the Moon: The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing.

apollo-home-pageThe Webbys are often referred to as the Academy Awards for the Internet. Hosted this year by comedian Patton Oswalt, the show is an entertaining look at what an important tool the Internet has become over the last two decades and the central role it plays in our everyday lives.

Ham didn’t necessarily have aspirations of becoming an award-winning web developer. As a freshman at UT, he was interested in teaching and enrolled in the College of Natural Sciences UTeach program. But classes in computer science, physics and mathematics and a job as a web developer at UT led Ham to continue with programming. His math classes, in particular, helped him most with further developing those skills.

“A lot of people think of computer science as just programing, but programing is just something you are doing along the way,” said Ham, who received a bachelor’s of arts in mathematics from UT in 2006. “What you’re really doing is a lot of abstract theory, and with math I learned a lot of abstract thinking skills that I could apply to programming.”

Tyler Ham (B.A. Mathematics '06) recently received a Webby Award for his site about the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Since graduating from UT, Ham launched his own software development company, Thamtech, and has been involved with developing and producing many award-winning websites, including the 2009 Webby Award Nominated U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum: State of Deception Website, the 2012 Gold Certificate and Texas Association of Museums Wilder Awards Competition Judge’s Favorite, Humanities Texas Website and most recently, his 2013 Webby Award Winning The First Men on the Moon: The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing.

Tyler-ham-webHam’s inspiration for his The First Men on the Moon website came after stumbling across the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, a NASA website that collected many of the documents, transcripts, photos and flight journals of the Apollo missions. But he soon realized there were many holes in the story, including missing transcripts, and that all the documents and videos existed in separate places on the web.

Ham spent hours reading transcripts and mission planning documents.

“It was about that point that I was like, ‘I want to see all of this together in one place,’” said Ham. “It doesn’t exist, but I can make it exist. So I set out to do it.” Ham and his wife Morela Montoya (B.S. Chemistry ’07) worked for months to prepare the content and bring it all to life.

The result is a comprehensive and synchronized multimedia moon landing experience that combines transcripts, audio of mission control, the command module and the lunar module, as well as photos and spaceflight video footage, giving visitors the chance to relive the historic 1969 moon landing.

While Ham’s original plan of becoming a teacher may not have panned out in the traditional sense, his desire to impart historical knowledge through his websites comes through very clearly.

“I came to UT thinking maybe I’ll be a teacher and I still do have that sense of wanting to teach people something,” he said.

Thanks to the skills he developed in math, teaching and computer sciences, Ham has had the opportunity to impact and educate people through the Internet. He is already working on his next project, a website and app for teachers that allows them to create educational quests for their students to complete using mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones.

Jessica is the data and communications coordinator for the Office of Constituent and Alumni relations in the College of Natural Sciences. She has a B.A. in Cultural Studies from Principia College.

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Guest Friday, July 25, 2014