European Geosciences Union symposium 2017 by Ekaterina Smirnova

This spring I traveled to Vienna to join 14,495 scientists from 107 countries discussing about Earth, environment and climate. This event took place in a large conference center, to be able to provide enough space for dozens of simultaneous talks, hundreds of posters, science booth and so on.

For 5 days from early morning to mid evening important topics were discussed, such as: Missions and techniques for planetary explorations,
Atmospheric and Meteorological research,
Vegetation-climate interactions...

But I was most interested in the following topics:
Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats,
Cities' resilience to a changing climate,
Present and future of permafrost in a climate changing world,
Rising methane and climate,
Future global cooperation on Climate Sciences...

It was amazing to see so many scientists uniting to protect our planet and present their research of the changing climate. I am very inspired as an artist and this symposium most definitely will help me with my current project "Frozen Waters" where I am researching snow and ice as a fragile phenomena in a warming environment.

I am very humbled to being able to also give a talk during this symposium and present my poster in the session "Scientists, artists and the Earth: co-operating for a better planet sustainability". 


I am not alone in my fight for better planet sustainability and reducing global warming. If you are with me, please share your thoughts and lets work o this together! 




Participating at the science symposium: DPS 48/ EPSC 11 by Ekaterina Smirnova

In October 2016 I went to the science symposium where the Division of Planetary Science came together with the European Planetary Science Congress (DPS 48/ EPSC 11). There were over 1400 scientists from various institutions such as NASA, ESA, SETI, JAXA, SwRI and others. 

I came to the symposium as an artist, to present my works inspired by the space mission Rosetta of the European Space Agency. I displayed my poster in the poster session with other scientific posters. In my poster I outlined the ways I explore the comet 67P, through bodily senses: vision, touch, smell and hearing.


Along with my poster I brought three of my 67P paintings to be included in the exhibition organized by the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA). For the first time I was presenting my latest project – augmented reality (AR), inspired by the spectroscopic data of OSIRIS, an instrument onboard the Rosetta spacecraft. My viewers were invited to experience a virtual colorful layer on top of my paintings, representing RGB data. A special AR app could be uploaded for free to your smart device and by directing it to my paintings you would be able to view an additional image, as well as to hear sound. As an artist I have a goal to represent the scientific research in an artistic way, while explaining to my audience the complexity and the vast variety of the data gathered during each mission. By including the AR into my project I try to show that some data could only be viewed via special instruments, in Rosetta's case it is the Optical, Spectroscopic, and Infrared Remote Imaging System (OSIRIS), in my case it is your cellphone. 

67P III, original artwork

67P III, original artwork

         67P with an AR layer

         67P with an AR layer

I was very happy to see that this project attracted a lot of attention and that scientists and guests of the symposium enjoyed playing with AR. 


At my display you could also find postcards that included the smell of the comet 67P, which were kindly provided by the Open University (read more about these cards: Even though the smell is very unpleasant, those cards were a big hit! 

Events of this scale are very important in my opinion, not only can you study a lot during the lectures that run from 8.30 am till 5pm for five days, but also meet many fascinating people and discuss their research in person. I made a lot of new connections and of course got inspired for new work. I treasure my time with the specialists from the Rosetta team, who help me to improve my knowledge about the mission, which allows me to make better art more closer to the science. I spent some time with scientists working on spectroscopic data and I am planning on continuing working on my AR project improving it with information I learnt from them. 

Matt Taylor is giving a talk at PDS/EPSC about the Rosetta mission

Matt Taylor is giving a talk at PDS/EPSC about the Rosetta mission




Giving a talk at NASA, JPL. Oct 2016 by Ekaterina Smirnova

You know when your dream comes true... that tingling feeling like on the 1st day of the year, very bright and light. Visiting NASA, was just that for me. Growing up we all hear this abbreviation of 4 letters N.A.S.A. It associates in your mind with something grand, space exploration and technologies on the edge of our time and the future.

I was so honored and humbled to be invited to give a talk at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA in Pasadena, CA. My talk was about the art project 67P, which is inspired by the space mission Rosetta, ESA, as well as the connection between science and art, it's mutual relationship and importance to each other. During the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS/EPSC) symposium, the week prior to my talk, I found many pieces of evidence that scientists need artists to translate their work to the rest of the world. Likewise, artists often get inspired by the research that is done by the scientists. During the talk I underlined that my goal was to present the data about the comet 67P in an artistic way. I explore the comet through different perspectives: visually, three-dimensionally, virtually (Augmented Reality, AR) and even through hearing and smell, while basing my project on such data as spectroscopy, magnetometry, chemistry and more.

At the end of the 30 minutes slide-show presentation I invited my listeners to interact with my paintings using AR - my latest project, based on spectroscopic data by OSIRIS (an instrument on board of Rosetta). My guests were able to use a free AR application to view a virtual layer on top of my paintings, to reveal hidden data. I create a parallel between the information that could be viewed only via special instruments, to build an awareness of the amount of research that is done to observe the otherwise invisible. *AR experience will be soon available on my website!

Bonnie J. Buratti , PhD

Bonnie J. Buratti, PhD

Prior to the talk my host and the organizer of this event Bonnie J. Buratti, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, Principal Scientist and Supervisor: Comets, Asteroids, and Satellites Group, invited me for a tour around the JPL site. I was very excited about this tour, it is very hard to get to visit NASA, the security is very strict and you can only visit JPL by a special invitation or with an organized group tour, that must be done months in advance. The JPL site is like a small town with 15,000 people. There are many buildings and it seems to be very confusing, Dr. Buratti for example had a map which we used often to get to one place or another. In the center of the town there is a garden, which sometimes gets wild animals like deer and even a wild panther! I have no idea how animals are able to get in, there is a wall around the site and the security is letting in only humans that have ether their passes or have their names on the list of guests.

I visited the Space Mission Control Center! They call it "Dark Room" for a reason, it is indeed very dark inside. Only the large monitors and LED blue lines that repeat the shape of the tables seem to provide light. All operations and communications with the spacecrafts happen there. On the monitors you would see the data sent/received from various missions including Cassini and Voyager! I did not want to leave there, just sit and observe from above what is going on for hours. 

I was of course very interested to visit the Spacecraft Assembling Room. Sadly there was not actual crafts in progress there, I was luckier at the European Space Agency where I saw BepiColombo in progress. But it is still very exciting to see the scale of the room and it's organization. It is very bright there and very clean. A mannequin in the center of the room was dressed in a special suit and a mask that reminds of a surgeon outfit in a way.

Next exciting stop of my tour was the Mars Yards. Everyone knows the Mars Rover. I was surprised to find out that it is much larger than I thought it would be. I saw a full model with all of the instruments and solar panels on display at the Museum at JPL, but here at the Mars Yards there was one that was actually operational. Six wheels are designed to be very flexible so the rover could move easily on any ground and here at the yard you would find a landscape that resembles Mars with various samples of sand, rocks and pebbles. I could not stop myself and took a picture with this fascinating machine.

My trip was almost like a trip to the future, and yet it is our present, with the technologies moving fast forward and our explorations reach far outside of the planet Earth. Science is AWESOME! And arts... arts help the science to be heard and understood.

I would like to thank Bonnie J. Buratti for this memorable visit and thank everyone who came for my talk.



Rosetta Mission Finale by Ekaterina Smirnova


Rosetta – a historic mission that won the world's hearts – just came to its finale (September 30, 2016). I traveled to Darmstadt, Germany to join the scientists and everyone else who was involved in the mission to watch live from the European Space Mission Control Center the final moments of the Rosetta spacecraft that was to land on the comet 67P. It was a very sensitive moment for everyone, especially those who were working on this mission for 20 years. "The signal is lost" – was announced when hundreds of eyes in the auditorium and thousands online were glued to the screen. It was a moment of silence, it took a while for everyone to realize THAT WAS IT, the spacecraft was on the comet, it can not communicate to us any longer. A tornado of applauds followed next. Everyone on the screen and in the room were hugging and congratulating each other. A few tears were easily noticed. 


What we saw on the screen was green colored schematics of the signal sent by Rosetta spacecraft. Comet 67P was as far as Jupiter from Earth, it takes 40 minutes to receive the signal that travels at the speed of light. So technically we were waiting to hear from the past. 

13:18 CEST the signal is still there

13:18 CEST the signal is still there

13:19 CEST the signal is lost

13:19 CEST the signal is lost

Later on I had a chance to visit the Space Mission Control room. It felt very special. A magical place indeed, that makes dreams happen far away from Earth.

The data received during this mission will keep scientists occupied for a very long time. We are now closer to answering questions of how water came to Earth and how life travels through out the Universe. 

I would like to extend my special thanks to so many people who supported my artistic work inspired by Rosetta, especially:
Claudia Mignone, an astrophysicist, science writer for ESA and co-manager, author and editor of the ESA Rosetta blog, based at ESTEC, The Netherlands. 
Mark McCaughrean, Senior Scientific Advisor, ESA
Matt Taylor, Project Scientist, ESA Rosetta

With Mark McCaughrean

With Mark McCaughrean

With Claudia Mignone

With Claudia Mignone

With Matt Taylor, showing off his real tattoos and my temporary ones inspired by Matt and Rosetta

With Matt Taylor, showing off his real tattoos and my temporary ones inspired by Matt and Rosetta

Science and Art by Ekaterina Smirnova

I would like to say a few words here regarding the relationships of Science and Art, based on my recent observations. In my artistic career, science plays a big role, inspiring me to create various artwork. For example my two year long project about the comet 67P, which is the object of exploration by the Rosetta mission of the European Space Agency (ESA). My fascination with a “dirty snowball” (that’s how comets are unofficially called due to their composition of ice and dirt) might surprise one, to think of it – it’s just a large rock floating through space. But what got my attention is the effort of thousands of people involved in this unbelievable sci-fi style mission when after nine years of chasing the comet we landed a robotic probe on it! 

Thanks to social media and the well curated public information output by ESA I was able to follow this mission for 2 years. Working on my own and being an observer, I, in a way, was having my own personal exploration of the comet through art. A lot of research, facts collecting, figuring out how to generate my own water to paint with (that is similar in composition to the water on the comet)… A lot of fun, and yet, all on my own in my New York studio.

Solo show at ESA. "67P I" painting next to the Rosetta spacecraft model.

Solo show at ESA. "67P I" painting next to the Rosetta spacecraft model.

I was shocked when someone from ESA got in touch with me, being very curious about my artwork on the mission! This changed everything. In a few month time I found myself participating the 50th ESLAB symposium “From Giotto to Rosetta” where I was able to meet in person so many scientists from all over the world who were involved in the mission for as long as 20 years, since the beginning! You can only imagine what pleasure it is to meet, talk and share your work with this special community. Of course many scientists know each other very well, since they have been working shoulder to shoulder on the same project for many years. But what fascinated me is that I was so easily accepted in this community and was so warmly welcomed. It is clear that I am not a scientist, I don’t ever claim to be one, but yet, my work and research on the mission was not disregarded and has attracted a lot of attention (my artwork were displayed for the duration of the symposium). 

50th ESLAB symposium  “From Giotto to Rosetta” with 67P paintings on display.

50th ESLAB symposium “From Giotto to Rosetta” with 67P paintings on display.

During that week of the conference I realized, that artist’s and scientist’s mind is not that different, it must be inquisitive, creative and experimental. Also, you must be a dreamer. It is very important to be a dreamer, in order to make such ambitious projects possible. 

There is a dedication of time, as one of the sacrifices to the science and art. There is no fear of making a mistake. And there is no mistake, because a negative result is also a result. 

Some of the questions that the Rosetta mission is trying to answer are “How did the water come to the planet Earth?” or “Is it possible that life travels through the Universe via comets?”. Those questions are very philosophical, in the art world, philosophical questions are best resolved in the form of an abstraction. One may say that abstract art has no algorithm and does not follow any rules, but I disagree. Even abstract work is highly organized. There could be different approaches to each abstract work, which is so similar to the science. There are many types of science involved in answering those questions mentioned above. During the symposium I was able to discuss various topics with professionals who presented their research in front of the audience. Those scientists, like artists, use different media to create a final masterpieces. That masterpiece is on view in front of the eloquent spectators, who would discuss it and share their thoughts on it, just like an artists would present an artwork at a gallery available for critique. 

When I was working on my project I made an incorrect assumption of a fact, which I only realized during the symposium. And this is exactly why these events have a place to be, as you not only meant to share your work, but also test it and make adjustments. This experience allowed me to correct myself and make my work stronger. 

The amount of information that I was exposed in the short period of time set my mind in a creative mode, I got inspired to observe the topic (of 67P) from a different perspective, which will lead me to create more works in different media. The power of knowledge is a strong tool.

Historically Art and Science inspire each other. Scientists would question a possibility of something that has a dream quality. Can a human fly? – asks a dreamer. Yes, says the scientist, he/she can, here is how… How infinite is the Universe? – a dreamer wonders. Lets see, I will calculate it for you – ready-to-answer scientist.

I believe that we are all artists and scientist naturally, since childhood. But not many of us continue to pursue those faculties. Yet, if you are a scientist, you are a dreamer. If you are an artist, you have an inquisitive mind. Both, an artist and a scientist have much in common, why would we not want to make this connection stronger?

Show at ESTEC: Johannes Benkhoff, Joe Zender, Lee Mottram, Ekaterina Smirnova, Matt Taylor

Show at ESTEC: Johannes Benkhoff, Joe Zender, Lee Mottram, Ekaterina Smirnova, Matt Taylor

67P: generating water for painting by Ekaterina Smirnova

My on-going interest: comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which has hosted for the 1st time in history a robotic probe Philae ( a 100 kg (220 lb.) on 12 November 2014.

Hoping to cast light on the mystery about how did water come to the planet Earth, ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft made a test of the comet's water (read more). It was discovered that the water on 67P is different then on our planet, to be more exact, that water has D2O (also known as heavy water) more then 3 times higher then on Earth, which is the highest ever amount found in nature.

I have decided to re-create similar water to the one found on 67P and paint with this water a set of works of the comet.

Heavy water. 
What is heavy water? Deuterium oxide (2H2O ) or D2O, is a form of water that contains a larger than normal amount of the hydrogenisotope deuterium (also known as heavy hydrogen, which can be symbolized as 2H or D) rather than the common hydrogen-1isotope (called protium, symbolized as 1H) that makes up most of the hydrogen in normal water. Long story short. I needed to recreate this heavy water in order to enrich my regular New York top to the amount found on the comet.

After my research I have discovered that D2O is not possible to generate, nature does not produce it, and the only D2O found has probably formed during the Big Bang. My only option was to extract it, but there are only about 156 deuterium atoms per million hydrogen atoms (1 per 6410). After reading few articles and blogs, I understood that I could use electrolysis process in order to bring the level of heavy water higher. Surely, I would need a lot of energy and voltage to generate the pure D2O, and in my art project I am just using this process for an educational purpose.

I used a 22 V 550 Amps AC/DC adopter as my electrolysis devise.
Electrolysis will be decomposing H2O into H and O, leaving D2O alone.
Hydrogen will appear at the cathode (the negatively charged electrode, where electrons enter the water), and oxygen will appear at the anode (the positively charged electrode).

It was recommended to attach stainless steel or graphite at the ends of each wire.
I started my tasting. For the stainless steel I took 2 stainless forks. In order to speed up the process it was suggested to add electrolyte, such as baking soda or salt.

Try 1: stainless forks, salt.
After just few seconds I could see 2 gasses (H and O) were forming on the forks. In few minutes the color of the water was rapidly turning rusty. After another 3-4 min the water turned green. I can not use rusty water for painting with watercolor.

Try 2: stainless forks, backing soda
This time it was not so fast of a color change, but even the stainless steel was oxidizing and turning into rust. It was still not good, a lot of rusty sediment. Though, if I would keep this water over night, some of the rust would settle on the bottom, the rest would float on the surface. Funny fact: if I would tap on the container, top sediment would slowly settle down. The water could be filtered and used for painting. But I wanted even better result.

Try 3: graphite rods, salt
This time all went well. I used artist leds (graphite), the water was clear. But using salt in the water will make my painting form crystals (I have used this effect in the series of my works: Sky’s Darkest Spot). I had to eliminate salt.

Try 4: graphite rods, backing soda
This was the perfect run. Water stayed clear. Soda did not effect the paint! Success!

I decided to use electrolysis for 3 hours each time. This amount of time was still not enough to get my water to the amount of D2O that was found on 67P. So I ordered the 100% pure Heavy water from United Nuclear. It was costly (12$ plus shipping per 10 grams of water!), but necessary.

Two drops of D2O to the whole large jar of water after electrolysis has made the trick. I now had what I was looking for: H2O enriched with D2O, just like on the comet 67P.

You would ask, how did it effect my painting? I did a test of 100% D2O and H2O on the watercolor. Both of the drops dried the same way (maybe D2O a little slower) and no visible differences were noticed. But this is not the point, is it?