A Collaborative Cosmic Triptych

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Interactions - SPS Chapters in Action

A Collaborative Cosmic Triptych


Teddy Anderson, SPS Member, University of Utah

Cosmic Triptych on display in the University of Utah James Fletcher Building. Photo courtesy of Teddy Anderson.Our SPS chapter was growing quickly, and we wanted to find a project to engage as many people as possible from the physics department and beyond. The idea for a mural began with the desire to add color and interest to the main hallway of the physics building. Our department chair, Dr. Ben Bromley, had given us the green light on several smaller projects throughout the year, and when we brought him our idea for a mural, he was on board.

We decided to pursue a partnership with the University of Utah Center for Science and Math Education’s Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Education in Science (REFUGES) program to create the mural. For six years, the REFUGES program has been helping middle and high school–aged kids from refugee families to prepare for college, and we knew they would be good partners for a large-scale project to paint a mural depicting different astronomical objects.

Dr. Bromley helped us plan a central theme and present the idea to the REFUGES students. They helped us further refine the theme. Says Dr. Bromley, “It’s great that the REFUGES students went with a big bang theme, a trek through cosmic time. The scale was grand, worthy of the commitment and enthusiasm of the club and the students working together!”

Interest in the project was strong from the start. We paired 15 undergraduate volunteers with 15 kids from REFUGES, and each team chose a celestial body or two to research, sketch out, and paint. Buying and transporting the materials was the biggest challenge, but when it came time to paint, everything went smoothly: We were blessed with good weather and plenty of outdoor space.

Our biggest stroke of luck was having a skilled painter on hand—an undergraduate volunteer named Emmelyn Redd. Emmelyn is an animation major, and she heard about the project while taking an introductory astronomy course. Says Emmelyn, “The kids planned out the design and painted what each of them wanted, in the time they had. I used their design and foundation, and took the project on, to refine it and touch it up visually. It was a fantastic opportunity to help the kids and work on a sizable painting for permanent display.”

The finished mural is 4 ft × 10 ft and is on display on the main floor of the James Fletcher Building, which is home to the physics department. It catches the eye of everyone visiting the physics department and has helped increase interest in the club. “Our department is truly fortunate to have SPS here on our campus, strengthening our own community and reaching out to help others,” says Dr. Bromley. Our club members would agree. The mural serves as a reminder of the power of collaboration, in physics and beyond.Students begin designing three panels of art depicting a cosmic journey through time. Photo courtesy of Teddy Anderson.

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