This Astrophysicist Turned Star Data Into 3D-Printed Spheres

Astrophysicist Nia Imara’s career merges art and astronomy to figure out how stars are born.

a black woman wearing a white long sleeve top holds up a 3d printed sphere the size of an apple that has the pattern of a marble
Nia Imara. Credit: Refa One

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When you look into the sky, the space between stars looks empty and void—but it isn’t. That’s where stars are born. And since astronomers and astrophysicists can’t reach these stellar nurseries, they rely on data collected by telescopes to peer into space.

But what if you could hold part of the galaxy in their hands? Or peer into an orb and see the birthplace of stars? By combining astrophysics and art, that’s exactly what Dr. Nia Imara does. She’s a visual artist and assistant professor of astronomy at UC Santa Cruz, based in Santa Cruz, California. Imara talks about studying stellar nurseries, how she creates stellar nursery spheres, and what she can learn from holding them in her hand.

Universe of Art is hosted and produced by D. Peterschmidt, who also wrote the theme music. Charles Bergquist and John Dankosky provided production assistance. The original segment was produced by Rasha Aridi, and hosted by Ira Flatow. Our show art was illustrated by Abelle Hayford. Support for Science Friday’s science and arts coverage comes from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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Meet the Writer

About D. Peterschmidt

D. Peterschmidt is a producer, host of the podcast Universe of Art, and composes music for Science Friday’s podcasts. Their D&D character is a clumsy bard named Chip Chap Chopman.

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