Kimberly Arcand is one of the world’s preeminent experts in astronomy visualization and has been a pioneer in 3D printing and virtual reality applications in this field.
Kim began her career in molecular biology and public health before moving to NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory in 1998. In addition to being an award-winning producer and director, she is an expert in studying the perception and comprehension of high-energy data visualization across the novice-expert spectrum. Kim has co-written five popular science books, and has her first two children’s books coming out this year.
Nora Toure: Kimberly, could you let us know about your background and your journey to Additive Manufacturing?
Kimberly Arcand: My background is eclectic: a strange mixture of microbiology, computer science, image and meaning research, and astronomy. I’ve been working for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory for over twenty years. As the visualization and emerging tech lead for Chandra, I like to say that I use NASA data to tell stories, and that those stories can take the form of a 2D image, a 3D model, a VR application, or some other output.
I learned how to create with additive manufacturing from pure curiosity. In 2009, we had an incredible digital 3D model of an exploded star, Cassiopeia A, at hand. Not long after, I heard that my colleagues at the Smithsonian had created and printed a 3D model of President Obama’s head. I thought if they could do that, surely we could figure out how to print this 3D model of a supernova remnant.
With a bit of help from the Smithsonian experts on how to translate a 3D file into an .stl file, my team and I experimented our way through the process and started 3D printing exploded stars. Of course, our prints are scaled way down from the real thing. For example, the 4-inch version of Cassiopeia A we made represents something about 40 million billion times the surface area of our Sun and planets combined.
Nora Toure: To date, what would you say is your greatest achievement in Additive Manufacturing?
Kimberly Arcand: From that first-ever 3D print of an exploded star, crafted from observational data, I’ve only wanted to continue to learn and do more in this area. I had an emotional reaction to holding this object, Cassiopeia A, in my hands, and I wanted to share that with others who usually don’t get access to these kinds of data.
We began to explore what other objects could we model into 3D and then print out. How would people respond to the prints? What would they learn from them, and enjoy (or not enjoy) about them? What kind of access might this format of data give to people who can’t rely on the sense of sight or who have other types of abilities?
The project grew on its own from there, and we went on to create a full 3D printed tactile and Braille kit of five astronomical objects (stars and exploded stars) that use NASA data. We started working with students at the National Federation of the Blind to improve our 3D prints. Then we started printing, distributing and further refining the kits, which we nicknamed “Touch the Stars.” It has been such a rewarding project, I would have to say that’s my favorite achievement so far.
Read the rest at Women in 3D Printing