Kimberly Kowal Arcand ’97

Degree: B.S. Biology

Career: Visualization Lead, NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory

As a child, Kim Kowal Arcand wanted to be an astronaut. Although she didn’t travel that route, her role as a “science storyteller” enhances our understanding of the cosmos by helping us see it. Combining her background in biology and computer science with her longtime work in the fields of astronomy and physics, she is a leading expert in the perception and comprehension of high-energy data visualization, bringing the cosmos closer to both experts and the public at large.

Arcand directs the full range of science outreach projects for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, which has its headquarters at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory  in Cambridge, Mass.  The recipient of awards from NASA and the Smithsonian, Arcand uses data to tell stories, whether they are “in the form of a 3d model of an exploded star, a book about the Universe, or a tweet about how fireflies glow.”

Arcand’s popular science books include Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos, co-authored with Megan Watzke in 2013, and two new titles to be released in November—Light: The Visible Spectrum and Beyond and Coloring the Universe: An Insider’s Look at Making Spectacular Images of Space.

“My career with a NASA mission, as well as writing popular science books and giving talks, are all a perfect synthesis of the skills that I picked up doing my undergraduate studies at URI, from my science classes, and my fellowship in computer science, to working with my advisor in the English/Linguistics department,” she said. “I attribute a lot of my positive outcomes to the communication skills that I began building an undergrad, and have continued to fine-tune since.”

Earlier this fall, Arcand had the “absolute thrill” of introducing superstar astrophysisist Neil deGrasse Tyson to a full house at the Providence Center for Performing Arts. “It was immensely gratifying that our audience was so warm and enthusiastic about science.”

Next:

Amanda Rode’s summer research project studying the biochemistry of male infertility is a long way from what she started out majoring in—civil engineering. But her experience at URI has opened up numerous doors she didn’t expect when she enrolled.