The Art of Science at Aerospace

A group of scientists explore the photographic aspects of their job.
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Scientists spend their days researching, solving complicated equations, and running laboratory experiments. And yet, sometimes science can venture into a more artistic realm. 

Scientists actually capture all kinds of imagery, and a group of scientists here at The Aerospace Corporation decided to compete in a departmental contest to see who could supply the most interesting image.

While traditional photo contests might feature beautiful landscapes or artistic close-ups, this contest ranged into the more esoteric, and even the microscopic. 

  • Who needs a photo of flowers when you can explore the floral pattern of a metal alloy—only visible once it’s blown up 200x using polarized light?
  • Why snap a shot of the cloudy sky when you can capture the cloud-like shapes of chemical corrosion? 
  • Why travel north to photograph the aurora borealis when you can generate those colors in your lab? 

We invite you to browse through the following collection of science photos, taking time to enjoy the art of the geek.

Click here to view as slideshow.

Laser Penny
A Pretty Penny: Aerospace’s laser confocal microscopy capability allows us to see things that are not readily apparent to the unaided eye, such as the presence of President Lincoln and the artist’s initials at the lower-right of the memorial on this penny.


Alloy Micrograph
The Structure of Solder: Using polarized light microscopy to magnify 200X, Aerospace scientists can see the microstructure of a lead-free alloy that can be used as an environmentally friendly alternative to tin-lead solder.


Heat Visible
Heating Things Up: This thermal image can be used to study the effects of laboratory-simulated radiation on various conductive polymeric materials.


Ammonia Plume
Colorful Plumage: Aerospace’s Mako sensor detecting and imaging a plume of ammonia emitting from a geothermal power plant.
Battery Case
Broken Battery: Acoustic microscopy image of invisible internal damage of a failed battery.


Salt Fog
Cloudy Day: A salt fog test performed on a mirror resulted in distinct blue, cloud-like shapes, which are chemical corrosions on the mirror surface caused by the salt. A mirror might be exposed to salt if it were part of a ground-based telescope near an ocean.
Plasma Gates
Laboratory Lights: Aerospace imitates the aurora borealis by generating a capacitively coupled plasma. Scientists often use a plasma as a source to replicate the upper atmosphere.


Art of Failure
The Art of Failure: The subtle consequence of scratching the surface of a silver mirror coating—inviting moisture to penetrate the coated surface resulting in some rather artistic circular corrosions.
Corroded Coating: Electron microscopy image of the corrosion on an antireflection coating after exposure to humidity in an accelerated environmental test.


Gazing at the Grain: A special scanning electron microscope technique shows the grain structure of a 3-D printed titanium alloy used for structural applications in aerospace systems. 3-D printed parts are becoming more common for space applications.
Controlling the Light: A beam of ions creates a chromium optical thin film. These films are 100 times thinner than a piece of paper, yet are essential to many spacecraft components, as they control how light transmits, reflects and/or absorbs from a surface.


Humidity Rainbow
Humidity Rainbow: A closeup of the corrosion and cracks on the edge of a conductive coating sample after a humidity test was performed.


Corrosion Infection
Mirror, Mirror, in the Lab: A detailed look at the effects of corrosion on the surface of a coated silver mirror, stored in a laboratory environment at atmospheric conditions for a period of 6 years.


Laser Diode
Staring at a Laser: Scanning transmission electron microscopy image of a damaged area in a high-power laser diode, which is used in applications like optical communications.


Pixel Closeup: Laser confocal micrograph of a detector pixel, roughly 200 square micrometers, and part of an “off-the-shelf” automotive sensor, which Aerospace is assessing for space viability.


Delaminated Coating
Take a Second Look: A degraded silver mirror coating. Left: microscope using standard settings. Right: Differential interference contrast microscopy technique exploiting changes in the refractive index.
Tin Star: A tin whisker is an extrusion that can sprout from tin plating and cause electrical shorts in space hardware. This image from a scanning electron microscope shows the electron diffraction pattern from a tin whisker.
Tin Star: A tin whisker is an extrusion that can sprout from tin plating and cause electrical shorts in space hardware. This image from a scanning electron microscope shows the electron diffraction pattern from a tin whisker.
Down to Details: A crystallographic orientation map of an additively manufactured aluminum alloy part, obtained with a scanning electron microscope-based Electron BackScatter Diffraction technique.
Down to Details: A crystallographic orientation map of a 3-D printed aluminum alloy part, obtained with a special scanning electron microscope technique.
Lotus Blossom Turbine
Lotus Blossom Turbine: A counter-rotating turbine, fabricated in photostructurable glass ceramic material using a novel Aerospace laser machining technique.
San Andreas Fault
Accurate to a Fault: The San Andreas Fault near Palm Springs imaged with Aerospace’s Mako sensor, clearly delineating the trace of the fault.
Checking Circuits: Infrared laser scanning confocal microscopy shows the integrated circuits defining a field programmable gate array. This allows scientists to detect the most minute tampering to critical circuit components.
Graphene Transistor: The first-ever graphene spin field effect transistor, fabricated and tested in the Aerospace cleanroom.
Material Destruction
Cracking Up: These materials were exposed to laboratory-simulated space radiation for a period of 14 years, showing the space environment is no joke.
Mirror Corrosion
Mirror Corrosion Depth Profile: Scientists are looking at which chemicals/compounds are present in a mirror. They measure at various depths of the mirror. The bar on the left shows the depth and each of the 14 boxes on the right show how much of a given material is present. This helps identify unwanted material in the mirror.
ISS Reflections
Astronaut Selfie: The mirror samples in the lower, right-hand corner were mounted to the exterior of the International Space Station, and can be seen reflecting both the earth and the astronaut taking the photograph. (Image courtesy of NASA)


Humid Growth
Humid Growth: Scanning electron microscopy image of what grew out of a common solar panel structural element when exposed to humidity, causing a failure.


Plasma Cleaning
Colorful Cleaning: A purple nitrogen plasma is seen at the end of a Bismuth ion source in Aerospace’s Time of Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry system during routine maintenance. This instrument is used to find and identify contaminants and corrosion products in a variety of microelectronics, optical components, etc.


Nano Velcro
Carbon Nanotubes: Scanning electron microscopy image of carbon nanotubes grown in a methane-fueled rocket to simulate conditions of operating rocket engines.


Potential Mapping
Mapping Microelectronics: A unique microelectronics characterization technique, developed at Aerospace, is capable of mapping resistance, potential, and electric field in off-the-shelf parts at high resolution by using a scanning transmission electron microscope.
Silicon Film
Scanning the Surface: Atomic force microscopy image of the surface morphology of a silicone contaminant film.
Tin Whiskers
Tin Whiskers: Scanning electron microscopy image of “tin whiskers,” which are extrusions that can sprout from tin plating and cause electrical shorts in space hardware.
Tokyo at Night: Image of Tokyo taken by Aerospace’s CUMULOS sensor. CUMULOS has proven CubeSats can provide good-quality, higher-resolution nighttime images of city lights at a fraction of the cost of larger satellites by using inexpensive commercial cameras.


Beautiful Aging: A seven-year old sample of a thermal control material after exposure to the space environment.