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Student-created mural to debut at First Friday Astronomy event May 5

Stargazers visiting the physics department’s next First Friday Astronomy event will be welcomed by a new mural painted by student Robin Matson. The event begins with a lecture from Catherine Neish of the University of Arizona from 7:30-8:30 p.m. in Room 112 of the Education Building, followed by a trip to the building’s eighth floor for the mural unveiling and stargazing, weather permitting.

Matson, a physics major, with an emphasis in astrophysics from Mancos, Colorado, was connected to the project as a member of the Astronomers in Training Assisting the Community, or AstroTAC, team. This group of Boise State astronomy undergraduates provide STEM programs for schools, scouting troops and other community groups. Associate Professor Brian Jackson, with assistance from a grant through NASA’s Science Activation Program, leads the group.

After a few weeks as a member of the AstroTAC team, Jackson approached Matson, who has a background in illustration, with a project proposal.

“Brian showed me the eighth floor of the Education Building where there was a spooky, liminal hallway. It was pretty unsettling,” Matson said. “When I had learned that we would be taking the public through this space during our First Friday Astronomy events, I knew we had to try and do something to change the atmosphere.”

Matson sketched designs of constellations, quasars and other cosmological bodies for the space. After much collaboration and feedback from the AstroTAC team, and in partnership with Fonda Portales, the university’s art curator and collections manager, the team settled on a black hole inspired design and got to work.

“My design’s heavily inspired by artist’s depictions of cosmological bodies. For things like black holes, we can’t truly see them. We can only see the light that bends around them, and we only have one, very blurry, picture of one. Artists’ depictions are a lot more useful to the public, and since we were creating this piece for the public, I thought it was appropriate,” Matson said.

Fellow AstroTAC teammates helped Matson paint three walls of the hallway black, transfer the design to the main wall and paint it.

“I hope that visitors will feel inspired, or at the very least, more comfortable than they would’ve before we painted the hallway. I think it’s important to take care of the spaces that we use, and I would hope that visitors would see that with this mural,” Matson said.

“The mural is breath-taking, and I think it will definitely instill a sense of awe in visitors to the physics observatory for many years to come,” Brian Jackson said.