High Z: Our Story

Artists and Scientists Working Together

I was living in New York at the end of graduate school when I received an email from my sister, Arielle. I didn’t know it yet, but it would take us on an unexpected journey. Soon, we would travel from Colorado to Chile to interview a team of astronomers about their Nobel Prize-winning discovery. Here’s how it all started. 

“Peter's colleagues [Brian Schmidt and Adam Riesse] were awarded the Nobel prize (along with Saul Perlmutter) for the discovery of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. [...] Congratulations are raining in!”

Okay, let me backtrack. My sister is an astrophysicist. And her husband, Peter is an astronomer. They met at DAO, a telescope observatory in Victoria, BC. At the time, Peter was on the High-Z Supernova Search Team. That's one of the two teams that discovered the accelerating universe. So he and Arielle were invited to attend the Nobel Prize ceremonies in Stockholm.

A group picture of the High-Z Supernova Search Team celebrating at Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Stockholm in 2011
Here's the High-Z Team celebrating the Nobel Prize.
High-Z Stockholm, Nobel Prize Ceremonies
And here are Arielle and Peter with Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt and his wife, renowned economist Jenny Gordon.

During Nobel week, Arielle spoke with the High-Z astronomers and watched them reminisce. That's when she came up with an idea: to collect the oral histories of the team. Months later, she asked me if I’d be interested in creating an artwork based on their interviews. We'd collaborated on another project, so I was immediately on board. After some time passed, I had my first vision for High Z: scaling the process of discovery. 

A sketch illustrating my first vision for High Z: scalling the process of discovery of the High-Z Supernova Search Team
A collabaoration between artists and scientists

Arielle and I got to work. First, we interviewed members of the High-Z Team, asking them about everything from their scientific process to their favourite swear words.

Then, we assembled our dream team of collaborators: astrophysicist Keith Davis (South Bend) and theatre artists Fatma Sarah Elkashef (Montreal), Yael Prizant (Bologna), and David Bengali (New York).

Today, we're a group of artists and scientists, pushing the boundaries of our fields. Working together has led to a surprising outcome. Our most inspired work happens when we step into each other’s process.

scientists doing art + artists doing science = inspiration

This was evident when Sarah and I participated in a telescope observation run with professional astronomers. We worked on the VATT Telescope at the Mount Graham International Observatory in Arizona.

It was also true when our group explored the light path and video during a residency at the University of Notre Dame's DVT. That's when Keith, David, and Arielle created a prototype for a deconstructed telescope. 

So far, the best thing for me has been to travel with my sister to hear the stories of the High-Z Team. It's been amazing, and we're just getting started!