Credit: Photos by Dan Goods.
Dan Goods: The Big Playground (2004)
Dan Goods is Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s very own permanent artist-in-residence — employed as “Visual Strategist” — whose job is to create artwork that communicates NASA’s out-of-this-world ideas. Basically, he creates experiences for the uninitiated so they can understand planetary science through art. For example, in 2004 Goods’ developed The Big Playground as a visual for NASA’s Terrestrial Planet Finder mission that searches for planets outside of our solar system. To give people a way to comprehend the enormity of the universe, he filled an exhibition space with sand.
Hear me out. According to Goods, “If a grain of sand represented an entire galaxy, you would need six rooms full of sand to contain all the galaxies in the known universe.” To represent our place in the solar system, he displayed under a microscope a tiny grain of sand as the Milky Way galaxy. But if you look closely, there’s a hole in it. This hole equals more than 140 planets we’ve found within our galaxy. But how in the heck do you drill a hole into a teeny, tiny grain of sand? He explains in an article for Leonardo Journal:
It is one thing to conceive of drilling a hole into a grain of sand; it is entirely another to actually do it. I approached personnel at the Space Flight Instruments Shop at JPL, who are accustomed to milling tiny structures out of metal with tolerances of wavelengths, and asked them if they could drill into a grain of sand for me. One guy looked at me with a perplexed expression, and I knew what he had to be thinking—“You want to do what?” Fortunately the other person said, “Oh cool, let’s try it!” and his mindset won out. There was a great deal to figure out, since they had never tried to drill into a rock before. What kind of rock would be best? What did it have to look like? I spent hours looking through piles of sand with a 15x magnifying loupe trying to find the perfect grain. It had to be 1 mm wide, because the hole was to be .1 mm, impressively small yet large enough to be seen at 15x magnification. It had to be black, because it was to be backlit; somewhat oval, to represent our galaxy; and very flat, so that the drill could go through. Once I had found a few grains that the engineers liked, they placed wax on them and attached them to the drilling surface. The hole was drilled using a carbide drill bit. The chosen grain was then cleaned in a sonic cleaner and placed under a 15x lens for viewing.
Goods has worked for NASA/JPL since 2003 — only a year after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Art Center College of Design. His projects receive immense support from scientists and engineers who are enthusiastic about Goods’ keen ability to shed light on scientific research.