Aarti Patel's Essense of Psyche- a image of a moon and a satellite
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Art and Engineering Collide

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While many people have been spending a lot more time at home lately, a select group of students across the U.S. is finding inspiration worlds away. 

Through NASA’s Psyche Inspired internship program, an interdisciplinary cohort of 15 undergraduates—including Pitt’s Aarti Patel—have created art inspired by of the space agency’s upcoming missions: Psyche. 

In 2022, NASA aims to launch a spacecraft to explore the asteroid 16 Psyche, which is orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Unlike most asteroids, this one is composed mainly of metal, instead of rock or ice. The internship aims to combine art and science to promote awareness and understanding of the mission.             

Patel, a mechanical engineering major in her senior year, took her inspiration from the metallic nature of 16 Psyche, using materials such as epoxy resin, acrylic paint and wooden panels to capture the stellar scape. 


a woman in a red shirt smiling

“I didn’t realize until I started the program how much art and science intersect,” Patel said. “As a visual learner, I need to be able to see what something looks like to understand it. Space has such large and small scales that art is very helpful in getting someone engaged in the material and to understand it.” 

In one of her pieces, “Flyover of Psyche,” Patel imagines what a detailed view of the surface of the asteroid looks like. She emphasized that this art need not be a factual or an exact representation of space, but rather something interesting that helps connect other people.  

“The actual painting of this piece was done by pouring cups of the various paints onto the panel and blending it with a heat gun to control the direction and fluidity of the blend. Black crystals and glitter were added on the thick paint to add more of a rocky and metallic touch to the surface,” she wrote in her description of the piece.

Patel said that the interdisciplinary project has pushed her to reimagine the scope of possibilities in her engineering career path. 

“I never thought of having this artistic avenue in engineering,” she said, adding that she wants to continue to explore her artistic abilities in the field.  

“Aarti brought a lot to the table to the Psyche Inspired program, and I don’t think it would have been possible without her passion for art and her STEM background,” said Kaxandra Nessi, student manager of Psyche Inspired. “When she was selected, we knew that Aarti was majoring in mechanical engineering and had many internship experiences within her field, so we were excited to be able to push her to understand the creative side of science in addition to the technical side she was used to.” 

At Pitt, Patel has worked with mentor William Clark, professor of mechanical engineering, on a research project involving stents used to treat wounds. Speaking about Patel’s time working with him, Clark noted, “She’s got a wide variety of experience and was great to work with. She’s a great student.” 

See all of Aarti Patel’s work and watch videos of her reflecting on the creative process on the Psyche Inspired website.            

This story was written by Justin P. Jones, a student reporter for Pittwire. Do you have an interesting internship this year? Tell us about it: pittwire [at] pitt.edu (subject: Interesting%20internships) .