Zoe Zeszut


Zoe Zeszut always knew that her major would be in geology, planetary science or something similar. Her passion for exploring our world and the universe beyond led her to where she is now, as an analyst for the OSIRIS-REx mission. Likewise, Zeszut has always been interested in art. Submitting her some of her work, titled together as Sample Sites/Reconnaissance Birds, was just the next step in her lifelong hobby as an artist.

What inspired you to make art related to planetary science?

Those four pieces are based on the potential landing sites that we were considering while planning for OSIRIS-REx. We’ve done scans over the whole asteroid. We’ve taken pictures, trying to find the nicest looking place to touch down and collect a sample. So, they had these final four candidate sites and they were important enough that they all kind of got codenames, based on these birds. All the birds are native to Egypt, so they kind of go with the OSIRIS-REx and Bennu theme. We had osprey, kingfisher, sandpiper and nightingale as the four bird sites.

Why did you decide to submit the Reconnaissance Birds to The Art of Planetary Science?

I found out about it from some coworkers. I don’t always keep up with what’s happening on campus, because I didn’t go here for college and I’m not on all the email lists. Other people are, and they’d see my art. I have a couple little paintings hanging in my cube, and they’d say, oh, you should enter those in that planetary art show. I checked it out, and sure enough, I entered. With the bird pieces, I tried to paint a close-up perspective of the sample sites. From a lot of the pictures that have been posted online, actual mission pictures, it’s more distant shots of the asteroid. We’re still a fair distance from the surface, at least with the images that have been made public. It’s a different angle and a different perspective than you would be able to get from the actual camera images.

What do you think is the purpose or goal of having an event like this?

Outreach for the public. A lot of times they think that scientists are more data focused, and actually, part of the art show was data art. People might not realize that both the data itself as well as the discoveries the science inspires can all be very beautiful and nice to look at. The general level of interest for things that are overly complicated or dense, or just not explained in an enjoyable way, is just not much. People aren’t very focused on it. Definitely, communicating through fun things like art and music, presentations, helps to outreach with the public.

Do you think it can be hard for some scientists to communicate about their work?

It can be, but I think it depends on the person. You don’t want to say nobody can do this or everybody is great at this. It even goes back to the teachers you had in school. Maybe, you had some teachers that were great at explaining difficult science concepts, and others that were too caught up in the academic level and aren’t as good at bringing it down to a more general level. Hopefully, there’s enough people that are out there who are good science communicators that can make things more widely understandable for non-scientists. People can then appreciate all the discoveries that are made.

Do you think the public might be a little afraid of science, maybe if they haven’t had really good teachers?

There’s probably a level of intimidation, I would think. If people see somebody is giving a presentation, and they have all these high-level degrees in complicated sounding fields, they might be inclined to think that oh, that’s beyond me. I can’t listen to this. Peer-reviewed articles can be hard to read, even if you’re in the field and you’ve studied that. Even in my own studies, in fields that I spent years working with, we’d have journal meetings and talk about academic articles. There are some that are quite difficult to read. They can be complicated. If it’s presented as art, or as a presentation or video, then it might be a little more appealing.

So, art can help make science more attractive to the public?

I think it can. From some of the data art that our group entered, we have software that visualizes the track the spacecraft makes over the asteroid. The images that it takes are plotted over this model of the asteroid within the software, so it makes these nice-looking, colorful visualizations. All of the instruments are mapped out in different colors and makes these sort of spirograph patterns. Just, things about our process that the general public—or anybody that doesn’t work on the mission—wouldn’t be aware of. They can sort of see how we do things, and I think that’s cool. It might inspire other people to get into science and say “Oh, that looks like interesting work. That might be something I would want to do.”

This interview was conducted in person | Image “Sample Sites/Reconnaissance Birds” courtesy of Zoe Zeszut and The Art of Planetary Science

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