Sci Chic is excited to launch our first pieces designed in collaboration with Women in STEM from around the country! Our first partners of choice are awesome astrophysicists and science communicators, Summer Ash and Emily Rice. Creators of the science fashion blog, Startorialist, they were the perfect partners for a series of space inspired pieces. We sat down to ask them a few questions about their careers, inspirations and science fashion!
Where did your love of space start?
Emily: I was actually a late bloomer it seems, at least relative to some of my colleagues! I always liked math and science, but I didn’t start learning about astronomy until late high school/early college. As soon as I did, luckily through the first class required for the Physics & Astronomy major at my college, I was hooked!
Summer: I was born with it somehow. My mom says I was always looking up at the sky day and night when I was little. And I always shouted out excitedly when I saw the Moon. I was fortunately to have a mother that encouraged and fed my curiosity.
How did you decide astrophysics was the right path forward for you?
Emily: I am still deciding! At several points in my career I paused to consider other options, but somehow I ended up in the most obvious job for an astronomer, a tenure-track professor.
Summer: I could say the same about still deciding. School wise, I went the engineering route first. I majored in mechanical engineering and then worked in the aerospace industry for several years before going back to school. I would say my interests were always space-related, but I didn’t study astrophysics properly until graduate school. I would say I followed my curiosity, even when it took my off the path I was currently on. I know I am extremely privileged to have been able to do that.
How did the idea for Startorialist come about and how did you two decide to do it together?
Emily: We both had noticed the trend in space-inspired fashions, and had in the back of our minds for a while to start a blog, but it wasn’t until we realized that we shared the idea that we started things in motion. We spent a few months planning on and off, and launched in December 2013. I honestly didn’t expect it to last this long or grow this large, but it’s been a exciting experience!
Summer: What Emily said. :)
What is the first piece of science inspired clothing/jewelry you can remember getting?
Emily: I started pretty simply, with souvenir t-shirts from observatories I worked at in graduate school, like Keck and Lowell, and I had a few shirts with star patterns on them. I consider my first real startorial purchase the Solar System necklace from Delight’s Earthly Delights I bought at a conference - it has a huge splurge at the time! When we started STARtorialist I hoped it would help me avoid buying more stuff, but the opposite happened!
Summer: You mean besides my Space Camp gear? I think the first item I got that really represented my love of space and astronomy, was actually a high school graduation present from my godmother. It’s a silver necklace of linked stars from Tiffany’s and it’s still the item that means the most to me.
What is your favorite area of astrophysics to continue to learn about?
Emily: My favorites are exoplanets and cosmology. I do some research in exoplanets, but only a particular kind, and I love to learn about the panoply of planets out there and how my colleagues are trying to make sense of their properties and how they formed. Cosmology is even further afield from my expertise, but it’s amazing to me that we can even think about the Universe as a whole, how it began and how it will end.
Summer: My heart will always belong to radio galaxies and active galactic nuclei (which is just a fancy term for supermassive black holes). I love how objects and phenomena in the Universe can look completely different depending on what wavelength of light you observe them in. Active radio galaxies really drive home the fact that galaxies are dynamic sources of powerful outflows, something you don’t necessarily get looking at a pretty Hubble image. I also thinking multi-wavelength astronomy is a good metaphor for life - you don’t always get the full picture if you only look at things through a narrow view point.
What inspired the ideas for these jewelry pieces and what is your personal connection to them?
Emily: These pieces represent the tools we use to understand the Universe, and as such they’re both a celebration of the remarkable technological achievements we are capable of as a species as well as the big questions we will try to answer with this telescope.
Summer: For the engineer still inside me, these pieces emphasize how amazingly creative we humans are to pull more and more information out of the light the Universe sends to us. Hubble, Kepler, and JWST are phenomenal feats of engineering, each of which has (and will) open(ed) new frontiers of science for us. Holding these designs in my hand reminds me how we reach for the stars even though we’re stuck here on Earth.
What is your proudest moment in astrophysics?
Emily: I’m most proud of what my students can accomplish. In my job I get to work with undergraduate as well as graduate students, and sometimes even high school students, and their enthusiasm for astronomy and dedication to research really inspire me.
Summer: Since I do outreach, I don’t get often get to follow up with the kids, students, people that I interact with. But every now and then, our paths with cross. I recall one year at the annual launch party for one of our programs focused on high school astronomy clubs, a girl came up to me and said she joined the club because of meeting me years earlier at a science camp I participated in. Similarly, I taught a summer astronomy program one year during graduate school for high schoolers after which one of my students was motivated to pursue a career in astronomy. She’s now in graduate school at the University of Arizona. Being able to see concrete effects like that makes my heart swell.
What advice do you have for any young kids looking at a career path in STEM?
Emily: Stay curious, ask questions! Learn how to handle frustration and failure sooner rather than later, because these are part of science. Even if you find that what you thought was your ideal career path isn’t a good fit for you, consider how you can incorporate STEM into other fields - business, law, politics, journalism, writing, art, music, entertainment. STEM is needed everywhere!
Summer: Never be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. No one makes it through school, let alone life on their own. Identifying outside resources, whether people or programs or books, that can help you is key. As Emily said, science is full of failure, but that is where we learn the most. Every time something doesn’t work, you learn more about why and how best to try again. Lastly, believe in yourself!
Find all of the pieces we designed with Summer and Emily here!