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! 




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.



Exploring the gravitational waves by Ekaterina Smirnova

When 100 years ago Einstein predicted the gravitational waves, he was in a debate with himself. How would you prove something that is not only invisible, but so difficult to detect? Earlier this year (2016) scientists of LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) finally announced to the world one of the major discoveries of the century: the existence of the gravitational waves, which opened a new door into the space exploration. In the meanwhile scientists of ESA (The European Space Agency) for many years (first proposed in 1998) has been already working on a mission called LISA Pathfinder, which is designed to explore the gravitational waves. The 1st spacecraft was launched in Dec. 2015, before LIGO's official announcement. This extraordinary mission inspired me to create a ceramic sculpture. 

I was carrying this idea in my head for a while, trying to figure out the way to pursue the task. I knew that I want to have two gold cubes to be the focus of the sculpture (the essence of the LISA Pathfinder projects is two perfect gold/platinum cubes that are placed in space to free-fall through the fabric of space, without touching the spacecraft). At first I thought I would like to make cubes appear falling (floating in a zero gravity), but the task was not easy to achieve.

The cubes are ready for bisque firing. This set is close to the LISA Pathfinder's cube sizes.

The cubes are ready for bisque firing. This set is close to the LISA Pathfinder's cube sizes.

I picked ceramics as my medium, because I could hand-build the cubes and any other parts of the sculpture. I decided to make a structure to represent the gravitational waves, on which I planed to rest the cubes, to make it look like they are floating on the gravitational waves. 

Gold luster appers bright red before it turns gold in a kiln

Gold luster appers bright red before it turns gold in a kiln

There are a few stages of the process: make the "perfect" cubes (easier said than done), and the waves. Fire once; glaze; fire 2nd time; apply gold luster on the cubes; fire them again. 
In reality, I made 8 cubes and 2 wave structures, there were many more then 3 firings too. The gold for the cubes would just not appearing perfect enough, so I had to make 3 gold coats for some of them! Between the multiple firings and using so much of the gold luster it became more pricier then I originally planned. But you can not stop in the middle of the project, you need to go all the way, even if the world doubts the outcome of it (have LISA Pathfinder as an example, a mission ahead of our time, that was very futuristic and yet is becoming a big success!). I was lucky to have Cesar Garcia Marirrodriga - LISA Pathfinder Project Manager - to visit me in art studio, who encouraged my work on the sculpture and explained a lot of details about the mission. 

I am still continuing on working on this sculpture, but it is already scheduled to participate at the 1st show! Stay tuned, more to come.

Greenware (raw clay, before firing). 

Greenware (raw clay, before firing). 

The waves were hardly fitting in the largest kiln! Greenware is extremely fragile and I had to shorten it on 2 inches - it is a very hard job, which took me 2 hours to do.

The waves were hardly fitting in the largest kiln! Greenware is extremely fragile and I had to shorten it on 2 inches - it is a very hard job, which took me 2 hours to do.

Applying glaze for the 2nd firing.

Applying glaze for the 2nd firing.

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