Who am I, you ask?
Astronomer. Artist. Educator. Nerd.
Measured by my day job, I’m the Visualization Scientist for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope project, which is a shorthand way of saying I oversee the visual side of science communications. Since joining the project in 2002, I’ve had the unique opportunity to help shape the visual identity of an observatory that sees only in infrared light.
On the private side I’m largely an enthusiast of all things nerdy like starships, superheroes, dragons, and robots from nano to giant-sized. Growing up on Star Trek and what little other science fiction I could find on TV and in the movies, ending up working for NASA was somewhere between a fantasy and an inevitability.
Creatively I count myself to be at least passably mediocre at art, photography, and model making. I have been painting artwork of space since high school, originally with acrylic and airbrush, later in Photoshop and a variety of 3D graphics applications. Otherwise I have a fondness for Nikon cameras, with a particular amusement in taking HDR and stereoscopic photos.
My undergrad years were pleasantly spent at UNC-Chapel Hill where I completed a B.S. in Physics. Not ready to start a real job I followed the path of least resistance to UCLA where I eventually received my Ph.D. for the studies of starburst dynamics in the spiral galaxy Maffei 2. That research largely utilized radio and submillimeter data, so from the start I’ve been accustomed to working outside the visible spectrum.
My subsequent postdoctoral studies covered the study of nearby early-stage star formation (so-called “class 0 protostars”), as well as distant galaxies with central activity driven by supermassive black holes.
The second postdoc brought me to IPAC, the center originally founded to process the landmark dataset from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS), to work with data from the then-current Infrared Space Observatory (ISO). From there I transitioned to the quality-assurance team working with the infrared all-sky data from the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS), then on to Spitzer.
Since 2002 I have worked as the “Visualization Scientist” for NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope project. In this unique position I have been able to synthesize my interests in astronomy, education, photography, artwork, and computer graphics to help shape the visual public face of Spitzer. It has been a delight working with the small, but dedicated, visualization community in astronomy that connects observatories, planetariums, software developers, and educators in striving for the best practices in showing science in pictures.
One of my core jobs is taking the processed data from Spitzer and rendering it into the photographic quality images we feature on our site. It is a unique honor to have the opportunity to work with the Spitzer science community to establish the visual identity of the Spitzer mission. I have also had the privilege of similarly working with datasets from a variety of other missions including:
- IRAS (Infrared Astronomical Satellite)
- 2MASS (Two Micron All Sky Survey)
- GALEX (Galaxy Evolution Explorer)
- WISE (Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer)
- NuSTAR (Nulclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array)
At the Spitzer Science Center I have worked closely with our resident artist Tim Pyle for many years since Spitzer’s launch to produce the many artist’s renderings, animations, and diagrams to help explain the science of Spitzer and many of our other missions, most recently including the Kepler mission. Tim handles the bulk of the artwork these days, though I still keep a hand in it whenever possible, but otherwise serve as the science art director.
The work we have done for these many missions has appeared across the spectrum of print media, including National Geographic, Science, Nature, Sky & Telescope, Astronomy, and newspapers across the world. Images and animations I have worked on appear in a variety of science documentaries including The Universe (History Channel), The Known Universe (NatGeo), and on national news networks. A few bits of imagery have even shown up on television shows including Star Trek Voyager, Battlestar Galactica, and Stargate.
- Geek Exchange: Space Odyssey
- NASA TV Observes LGBT Pride Month
- Txchnologist (& Business Insider): Drawing the Universe
- PopSci: Making Art from Spitzer Science Gallery
- Pasadena Weekly: Other Worlds
Videos and Lectures
You can find many of the videos I have produced or appeared in online at these links.
Dr. Robert L. Hurt