An artist, an author, a NASA advisor and a creative founder, Ariel Waldman is a prime example of the unexpected. Although she has no formal science background, she chased her admiration and curiosity for space exploration, which soon lead her to send a spontaneous email to NASA. Now, Waldman –– with a degree in graphic design –– has launched her creative mind into the world of NASA, where she advises the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program and founded a plethora of interactive science platforms. Being the fulcrum between science and art, Waldman will be speaking about her ingenious work this Thursday at the Michigan Theater.
According to Spacehack.org, Waldman’s work involves space hacking, where her mission is “to make science and space exploration disruptively accessible.” While many non-scientific users used to dream of having access to space data, information and explorations, Waldman now makes that dream a reality.
“I remember early on having a desire to apply design, and the creativity that comes with design, towards a much broader range of things,” Waldman said in an interview with The Daily. Some of her most popular multiuser science platforms include Spacehack, Seahack and Science Hack Day, where she is the global director. Science Hack Day, she explained, “is a two-day-all-night event where anyone excited about making weird, silly or serious things with science comes together in the same physical space to see what they can prototype within 24 consecutive hours.” With her background in design and her passion for science, Waldman is the glue between these two important societal mediums.
“Design has a huge amount of power in the world that is often underestimated for how much it affects how people do things and why they do things,” she said. “Being trained as a designer is really being trained in communication and how to be an effective translator.”
Due to her education in artistic design, Waldman has a “voracious appetite to apply design and creative thinking” to the world of science and other mediums. As a means of understanding and engaging, she brings community together to not only explore for themselves, but also to help benefit professional space research and exploration. Many of these projects stem from Science Hack Day that eventually lead to “real, tangible breakthroughs.”
In her Ted Talk, Waldman describes one of these beneficial projects where a participant of Science Hack Day designed “The Beard Detector,” a device that would detect when he would need to shave by using a USB microscope, a few codes and an open computer vision library. Later, a particle physicist saw this design and created a research program that would be used to detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber. It is powerful projects like these that allow Waldman’s work to inspire an everyday, non-scientific user, and gives them the opportunity to make a difference in progressing science research and space exploration.
“It’s both breaking down their personal walls that they’ve built up and working on breaking down the walls that society puts up for them,” she said. “It’s trying to break those down from both sides.”
Society tends to keep art and science on either side of a spectrum, creating a facade that they are opposite and impermeable crafts. By letting people access scientific data and use their imagination, however, Waldman brings a community of innovative and progressive people together, synthesizing the powers of our left and right brains.
“I like infusing serendipity into science and space exploration, and for me, getting that chance to work at NASA was never something I knew I could do. I think it’s still something that I need to pay off to other people,” she said.
Waldman said she never expected her degree to lead her into a place like NASA. Nonetheless, she lives her life on the line of what is possible and what is deemed impossible. By creating a world of “what ifs,” neither she nor her participants need to know where their imaginations are going to lead. The lack of expectation seems to be a highlight of Waldman’s work and a key aspect to her life as well.
“I think the greatest aspect of my work is knowing that the door is open for them (users) to play around in other disciplines. And for that, it can be either life changing or not life changing at all. But knowing they can walk through that door whenever they want is the most important thing for me.”