The History of Science
Industry: Government Agency
Goals and Challenges
In 2018, the National Science Foundation rebuilt its headquarters. To commemorate the move, and the societal impact that the National Science Foundation has, NSF commissioned me to create an epic mural. The illustration would represent the key science and societal advances that NSF has made possible since 1952.
The monumental mural was planned for a space 11 feet high and 52 feet long to spread across the employee entrance. Most importantly, it had to represent the broad scope of NSF. The subject areas included: biology, chemistry, sociology and economics, computing, education, physics, engineering and math.
Additionally, the artwork had to show the societal impact, including historically, and what key research of today may lead to tomorrow’s technology. It needed to feel cohesive, and accurate to the many scientists who regularly flow through NSF’s doors. In other words, the illustration needed to be epic… a description I love!
Process and Solution
Initially, NSF imagined a linear historical representation. However, as we discussed which subjects they wanted represented, I suggested a less linear approach. One of the things I love about working with the National Science Foundation is learning about their cross-cutting initiatives that draw different disciplines together. I’m fascinated by how different parts of life, our world and the greater universe are tied together—often in ways we are only just discovering. I wanted to evoke that connectivity in this homage to the National Science Foundation.
As I worked to conceptualize different options, I came up with the idea of undulating waves and swoops to weave all of these ideas together, and to represent the interplay between subjects and time. NSF historian Leo Slater shared with me what discoveries and events needed to be included. Next, I started filling in potential representations so that NSF could review the sketch before I proceeded to the final color artwork. NSF signed off, and piece by piece, I worked to create the color illustrations using a combination of 3D modeling in Cinema 4D and Zbrush and digital painting in Photoshop. I also incorporated photographs in a few key areas.
Results and Achievements
After a year of work, we printed and installed the mural in time for the National Science Foundation Building Inauguration. The history wall is 52 feet wide and 11.5 feet tall, spanning 52 subject areas that NSF has impacted. Some of these subject areas include: the structure of HIV, the research that led to Google, ongoing Earthquake and hurricane research, gravity wave detection and the first black hole image, education statistics and innovation, and much more. Check out the key NSF published online explaining each illustration within the mural and what it represents.