Art inspired by an asteroid
Arizona State University sophomore Alyssa Armstrong considers herself lucky to have discovered the School of Arts, Media and Engineering Fabrication Lab while she was only a freshman.
“Fascinated by the programming tools” made available by the so-called Fab Lab, the mechanical engineering major and studio art minor jumped at the chance to begin working there, quickly becoming familiar with processes like 3D printing and laser cutting.
Recently, Armstrong was selected to intern with ASU's Psyche Inspired program alongside a team of students who will use art to inform the public about a special asteroid in our solar system named Psyche.
Armstrong credits the knowledge and experience she gained at the Fab Lab, especially the opportunity to collaborate with fellow student workers and ASU staff members Dan Jackson, Caroline Fernandez and Pete Weisman, with helping her secure the internship.
“They were always available to answer questions that I had and guided me through the process,” she said. “Teamwork plays a big part of the work in the Fab Lab; since everyone comes with different skills and backgrounds, we learn from each other’s strengths.”
Armstrong is enthusiastic about the Psyche Inspired program and recently took some time to share how working as a part of the Arts, Media and Engineering Fab Lab team has been informative to the work she does within the program.
Question: When did you start working in the Fab Lab?
Answer: It was my first semester as a freshman in fall of 2021. As an engineering major, I wanted more hands-on experience and had a desire to learn about three-dimensional modeling and computer-aided design, so I enrolled in ART 218: 3D Tools. I attended workshops offered in the Fab Lab and I was fascinated by the programming tools one can use to manipulate 3D objects, and began working more in the space on projects. Another student worker in the lab then asked if I would be interested in working there, and I was thrilled. I applied as a student worker and began working soon after.
Q: What is something you’ve achieved while working at the Fab Lab that has prepared you for your internship with the Psyche Inspired program?
A: The 3D printers we use had a generic programming code loaded onto their system that wasn’t specific to how they function. I was able to customize the programming code to be specific to the Fab Lab printers, which helped overcome some of the problems we were encountering with the technology.
Q: How else has the hands-on experience available at the Fab Lab been helpful?
A: When it comes to engineering and design, having this knowledge is crucial; the hands-on experience helps. The tools available at the Fab Lab (such as 3D printing, laser cutting and woodwork) have helped me see how to bring various components of a project together for design and engineering. I have learned that it is vital to design to consider elements like who will be using the product, how they will be used and what material should be used to meet the needs of the functionality of the final product.
Q: Which tools did you use for the works of art that supported your application for the Psyche Inspired program?
A: When you’re applying for Psyche Inspired, they ask for images of three artworks. I shared two digital paintings and a laser-cut journal that was made in the Fab Lab. With laser cutting, ideas can come to life as long as you have the skills and access to them. I used Adobe Illustrator to design the file that the laser cutter would use to print and cut the material. I would not have been able to produce these things if I didn’t have access to these tools.
Q: What does your internship with the NASA Psyche Inspired program entail?
A: We learn about the Psyche mission and make artwork inspired by the mission so more people know about it. We also discuss possible ways that we can help inform the public about the mission.
Q: What have you learned about the Psyche mission that you expect to inform the artwork you create?
A: The spacecraft that will go to the asteroid will be using various sensors to send back data, like what it is made out of and information about its magnetic field. I met with Dr. Rona Oran, who was working on models of Psyche’s magnetic field, and noticed that some of the diagrams showed magnetic fields all over the place. I asked, ‘Why are there multiple fields? Is it possible for Psyche to have multiple poles?’ Dr. Oran explained to me that when Psyche was once a small object, it was impacted by other objects, and if the core of Psyche was still hot during the impacts, this would cause a magnetic field that is mixed up. If Psyche does have a magnetic field, it is a sign that this asteroid could have once been a planet. Readings of the light reflected off the asteroid will give us information about what metals the object is made of. Since Psyche is metal, this leads us to believe it could have potentially been a core of a larger planet.
Q: What has been your biggest takeaway from working in the Fab Lab and being a part of the Psyche Inspired internship team?
A: Engineering is problem-solving at its core — the big thing about it is determination and to keep going until you find a solution that is going to work. Go through the design and brainstorm processes over and over until you get it right.
Armstrong is scheduled to graduate in 2025 with a BSE in mechanical engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a minor in studio art from the Herberger Institute of Design and the Arts’ School of Art. The Psyche Inspired program showcases artwork made by interns throughout the year. For more information about the program and the mission, visit psyche.asu.edu/get-involved/psyche-inspired/.