Recent news out of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)—a vast complex nestled in the
hills of Pasadena, California—emerges from information collected by
the Cassini spacecraft's infrared mapping spectrometer instruments
and indicates that, for the last four years, Saturn has been
emitting less energy. In short, the colorful planet is acting like
lightbulb on a dimmer switch.”
In case it's not obvious, the “cosmic lightbulb” analogy is not
scientist-speak. Instead, it illuminates a formidable analysis of
data tied to temperature, heat radiation and invisible waves, and
constitutes JPL's attempt to help the rest of us (nonscientists)
understand what's going on in outer space.
Stereo image of mountains on Mars, from “Data + Art,” a show
co-curated by Dan Goods for the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
JPL works hard to make its scientific information comprehensible
to lay audiences, and Dan
Goods, trained as a graphic designer at Art Center College of
Design, has the enviable job of visualizing the often complex and
highly abstract work of astrophysicists across a variety of
platforms and venues. Moving well beyond linguistic metaphors,
Goods makes the information visual, tangible and embodied through
various installations. Recent projects designed by Goods include
recreating the roiling, multicolored clouds of
fog that surround Jupiter using ultrasonic water foggers, fans
and infrared illuminators in a very large tank; representing the
vast number of galaxies in our universe in six big gallery rooms
filled with sand for a project called The Big
Playground; and, in a project called Hidden Light,
illustrating the play of light and darkness in determining what we
can discover in space with large-scale projected video, a powerful
white light splayed over that projection, and shadows to reveal
what's unseen in the light.
(Top) Dan Goods, using empty soda bottles and his car to create
music; (bottom) images from Goods' sketchbook.
“It all started with soda-pop bottles,” explains Goods,
recalling a definitive moment in his studies at Art Center when an
instructor demanded that he stop being so practical. “Go play,” the
mentor commanded, and Goods did just that, using a collection of
glass bottles from the celebrated soda pop shop Galcos, located in
LA's Highland Park. “The bottle is what makes the soda good,”
asserts Goods, who began making sculptures from the bottles, then
added lights, and lined the bottles up across the tops of
buildings. “Then I started thinking about the noise the bottles
could make,” says Goods, who crafted a bottle xylophone, and then
taped clusters of bottles together and put them on top of his car.
“Eventually I got the right angle and distance, between 30 and
35mph, and I thought it could be great for a taco stand truck so
that you'd hear the music as the truck moved.”
In the project, Goods explored the full array of potentials in
his material, and discovered that he really liked the process. He
enrolled in a summer research program that involved visualizing
scientific data with an artist working in collaboration with
scientists. Admitting that these unions can often be fraught, Goods
says that instead the experience was good. “It was the semester
before my graduation, and I thought I could either go work for an
ad agency, or I could work with big ideas.” Around the same time he
took a tour of JPL and had the fortune of meeting JPL's director.
“I said, 'It would be really cool working with you guys,
brainstorming mission concepts,'” says Goods, and the director
agreed to accept his résumé. Goods sent his résumé, and continued
to inquire, and eventually was able to show the director his bottle
project. “He said that the project seemed cool,” and gave Goods a
shot. “'You have six months,' he said. I've been there for eight
Real-time weather-visualizing sculpture eCLOUD, by Dan Goods,
Nik Hafermaas and Aaron Koblin, at the San Jose International
Airport. (photo: Spencer Lowell)
With characteristic humility Goods claims that he doesn't really
know how to do anything. “I just ask a lot of questions, and then I
try to understand the real intent behind the science,” he says. In
actuality, Goods is a skilled collaborator who works not only with
scientists but with artists, programmers and technologists to make
the various projects for JPL. He also boasts a body of personal
work that similarly strives to visualize complex ideas in beautiful
ways. He has curated exhibitions of information visualization
projects, and his most recent personal project is eCLOUD, made in collaboration
with Nik Hafermaas and Aaron Koblin and installed between Gates 22
and 23 in the San Jose International Airport. The project displays
real-time weather data from around the world on hundreds of
polycarbonate tiles that change their opacity based on the data to
visualize the wind, rain and clouds in different places; the result
is an exquisite visualization of the weather across the tiles
suspended over airport walkway.
Goods connects his current job as JPL's visual strategist to a
passion for play and the desire to work with big ideas. The rest
seems to have followed quite easily, but that assumption obscures
the fact that Goods harbors a keen design sensibility, a sense of
perseverance driven by curiosity, and an understanding of the
unique potential of collaboration. And the fact that he works with
the vast expanses of space and time probably adds a sense of
perspective regarding what, in the end, is truly important.
See Dan Goods'
presentation at the2009 Los Angeles Ideas Project
Visit the eCloud
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