Category Archives: Uncategorized

Art of Science: Chasing a Comet From Lab to Studio


Ekaterina Smirnova, 67P V, Watercolor on Paper, 2015

Some painters grind their own pigments, but Ekaterina Smirnova is the first artist I know of who makes her own water. Smirnova was inspired by the landing of the robotic probe Philae on comet 67P Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014. When she learned that scientists had discovered that the water on the comet is very different from the water on Earth, she decided to try to generate water that is similar in composition to the water found on 67P and use it in her paintings.

Smirnova found out that the water on 67P was heavy water, containing D20, or deuterium oxide. Since it’s not the kind of thing you can pick up at the grocery store, Smirnova set about McGyvering a system to make some in her studio, using electrolysis. (blog) That didn’t produce quite the results she wanted, so she bought some from a nuclear energy source and mixed until she was satisfied.

The artist says that through her work she studies the relationship between humans and the universe. She is particularly interested in the vapor that is released when the comet passes close to the Sun, forming the comet’s tail.

67p VII

67P VII, Watercolor on Paper, 2015

The focus on vapor and spray carries through to her painting technique: “I use splashing techniques, vaporizing watercolor paint before it hits the paper, this allows me to create an effect of mist, little droplets of water streaming with a strong force to the dark vacuum of space. Painting most of the work without touching paper with a brush, I use 30 to 40 layers, which helps to create complex textures on the painting.”

Next month, Smirnova will show her 67P-inspired work, including a musical collaboration to an audience of scientists at the 50th ESALAB Symposium which will be held in Leiden, in the Netherlands.  If you can’t make it there, she’ll be showing in New York later this year.






Science Caturday: Gas Giant? Sounds liek a doggy planet


Caltech astronomers, including Mike “Pluto Killer” Brown, announced this week that they have strong evidence for a ninth planet in our solar system. “Planet 9” as they call it, is a gas giant 5,000 times bigger than Pluto and billions of miles farther away.

The catch: nobody has actually seen Planet 9 yet. The astronomers reported their research, based on mathematical and computer modeling, in The Astronomical Journal this week. They anticipate its discovery via telescope within five years or less, and they want help.

“We could have stayed quiet and quietly spent the next five years searching the skies ourselves and hoping to find it. But I would rather somebody find it sooner, than me find it later,” Brown told The Associated Press. “I want to see it. I want to see what it looks like. I want to understand where it is, and I think this will help.”

Well OK then! Space kittehs, to your telescopes! There are new planets to be found.



Science Caturday: Who Run the World? Squirrels!


This week, we learned that one of the top threats to the US power grid is neither terrorists nor hackers but – wait for it – squirrels. According to ossim website, more than 600 successful attacks have been launched on power networks by squirrels since 1987. Squirrels are by far the most active, but birds, raccoons and snakes have also launched over 300 successful “cyberattacks”, while human hackers, foreign and domestic, have managed only to take down a few twitter accounts and magazine websites. It’s pitiful, really.

What does this have to do with cats, you ask? Who do you think is running those crack troops of cybersquirrels? Dogs?


Science Caturday:Buzzed Off


A report released this week by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed a link between a major class of pesticides and harm to honeybees, but only when used on certain types of crops. The report showed that pesticides known as neonicotinoids posed a significant risk to honeybees when used on cotton plants and citrus trees but not when used on other big crops like corn and tobacco.

Both the pesticide manufacturer and anti-pesticide advocates were unhappy with the report, which failed to make a clear case for either continued use of neonicotinoids or an outright ban.

Neonicotinoids, chemicals that work on insects’ central nervous systems, have been the subject of intense debate in Europe, where several countries have enacted full or partial bans on their use.  Despite this, most scientific bee experts agree that neonicotinoids alone are not to blame for the problem of dwindling bee populations, although they may be a factor in some cases.

Entomologist May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois noted that the health of honeybees, agriculture’s top pollinator, is a complex puzzle that includes climate, food for bees, parasites, disease and the way different pesticides and fungicides interact. “People would like a nice simple story with a guy in a black hat as the bad guy, but it’s complicated.”

Our science kitteh, on the other hand, seems to have identified a villain. Oh, dear.




Happy Holidays!

From all of us at The Finch & Pea, we wish you and yours a happy holiday season, whichever holiday (or lack thereof) you choose to celebrate.