CU Boulder student highlights MAVEN research at Honors Sidewalk Symposium

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CU Boulder student highlights MAVEN research at Honors Sidewalk Symposium

University of Colorado (CU) Boulder undergraduate Hunter Pratt with his creation at the CU Boulder’s Honors Sidewalk Symposium. The art shows how the MAVEN spacecraft measures Mars’ atmospheric composition by watching stars set through the atmosphere. Hunter is a member of MAVEN’s Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph Team working at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.

People walking around campus looking down at the sidewalk are usually not thinking about planetary science, but University of Colorado (CU) Boulder undergraduate student Hunter Pratt has found an ingenious way to get them to look up and turn their attention toward outer space.

Pratt, a sophomore astrophysics major, drew NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution) spacecraft in chalk on the sidewalk outside the Visual Arts Complex Plaza on April 30.

The artwork highlighting his research on Mars’ atmosphere was part of the Honors Sidewalk Symposium organized by CU’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. The symposium, which has been held in Boulder since 2018, invites undergraduates to create and share their research and creative work in chalk on campus walkways, along with the help of a professional artist.

Throughout the Spring 2024 semester, Pratt has been working with Dr. Sumedha Gupta at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at CU Boulder to analyze stellar occultation data from MAVEN’s IUVS (Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph) instrument. Stellar occultation occurs when a star passes behind a planet. By observing how the starlight changes when this happens, scientists can uncover new insights about Mars’ upper atmosphere, such as atmospheric composition, density, and temperature.

In creating his chalk piece, Pratt considered several different ways to represent his research, including recreating plots and his code. In the end, he wanted to make sure it was the most understandable way to convey his work to everyone who would see the creation.

“I found that the best way (and most exciting way) to represent what I do is by showing the satellite orbiting around Mars,” he said.

The undergraduates at the symposium had the opportunity to collaborate with a local chalk artist, who showed Pratt a new technique for drawing stars with chalk and passed on some inspiration.

“The deeper I dive into both art and science, the more interconnected they seem,” said Pratt. “In science, I observe and analyze; in art, I create and express. Each discipline enhances my understanding of the world, allowing me to convey complex concepts in unique and hopefully relatable ways.”

The art was visible for several days and was likely seen by hundreds of people who attended the symposium or passed by the Visual Arts Complex Plaza on campus.

Written by Willow Reed, MAVEN Communications Lead

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