With Juneau's below-freezing temperatures this winter, many locals can understand the basic concepts of ice - mainly how it freezes our car doors shut and makes our roads slick. But for NASA astrophysicist Dr. Peter Wasilewski, ice is much more than the crystals we deal with in our everyday lives.
"Ice is just not ice," Wasilewski said. "It's just not some crystal-clear thing with some bubbles in it. For example, as you go down in the Greenland Ice or in lake ice or in sea ice, you can see different patterns. And even in sea ice, (you can see the difference in) the way in which the salt is distributed, because when ice freezes, it rejects salt."
This outlook on ice has helped Wasilewski (whose actual career is based on studying rocks, meteorites, moon rocks and magnetic properties) use his scientific and artistic knowledge to create "frizion" - frozen vision - artwork, which is now on exhibit at the Alaska State Museum through Feb. 21.
"Basically, the 'Frizion' exhibit is a way of grabbing people and saying 'Ice is art,'" Wasilewski said.
To create his artwork, Wasilewski, who began in 2002, photographs a thin layer of forming ice on a petri dish which is sandwiched between two polarized light filters.
"If you have polarized sun glasses, take one lens out of one eye and put it on a source of light, like a light table, and what the polarized sunglass does is to make light vibrate in one direction," Wasilewski explained. "Then you put that polarized piece on the light table and then you put the ice on top of it. Then you take the other piece of polarized sunglass and put it on top, and that result is your frizions, your beautiful colored ice."
According to Wasilewski, the lattice structure and thickness of the ice are what determine the colors produced, but he also just uses trial and error to produce various patterns.
"I just played around with it," he said. "I'd freeze the water and go back and take a look at it every few minutes and then, when I thought that it was correct, I'd take it out and put it on my light table. That's how I spent some evenings, mindlessly watching TV and waiting for the ice to freeze."
This somewhat tedious process isn't surprising when you understand Wasilewski's true passion for ice, which started in 1961 on his first of six trips to Antarctica.
"It was fascinating to see so much ice in so many different forms and to experience things like total quiet, when wind doesn't blow," Wasilewski said of his Antarctica experiences. "There's absolutely no noise. There's no airplanes. There's no wind, no sound of anything. You can hear the ice crack and that's it."
But although his scientific mind serves him well at NASA and while teaching others, Wasilewski's artistic side is evident in his unique artwork.
"I just try to compose the ice," he said. "Sometimes I make it and I never take any pictures because I don't like it. People ask me how big it is, and I say it's irrelevant. ... If I'm looking at artistic things, I don't care how big it is."
Wasilewski's fervor for ice even led him to the Ice and Music Festival in Geilo, Norway, where he teamed up with Terje Isungset, who makes musical instruments out of ice. Together the pair made a YouTube video, "Ice Fuzion," in which Isungset's ice-made sounds play alongside Wasilewski's frizions.
But now that he has developed a rewarding art form, Wasilewski looks to future generations to carry on the same love for science and art.
"As I'm near retirement, my idea is to use ice and snow to make teachers better science teachers, to enhance the science content knowledge of teachers," Wasilewski said. "That's my main focus in the long run."
To fulfill this objective, Wasilewski started a winter camp, "The History of Winter," in 2000 to teach science teachers more about snow and ice. The camp, held every February at Northwood School in Lake Placid, N.Y. (where the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics took place), is funded in part by a NASA education program.
"We kind of look at everything about snow and ice, how to measure temperature, how to tie this into winter ecology," Wasilewski said. "So there's a whole broad spectrum of natural and man-made ice and snow and the way in which humanity and essentially animals in general behave in the snow and when it's cold."
In fact, Mary Hakala, education coordinator for SpringBoard's STEM program, took a local team of teachers to Wasilewski's winter camp last February to learn more about snow and ice. It went over so well that Hakala invited Wasilewski to Juneau for an art exhibit and presentation.
"It's just an extrodinary opportunity for Alaska teachers to spend time learning and working with these NASA scientists," Hakala said. "Focusing on the science of winter, ice and snow, and the cryosphere really makes sense in Alaska, with our long, cold winters."
Wasilewski's current exhibit consists of 18 photographs. His presentation, "The Color of Ice," will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the University of Alaska Southeast Glacier View Room.
Wasilewski praised Hakala's and others' initiative in promoting ice education in Juneau. He said Hakala also was instrumental in hosting a "Cool It with the Kids" educational event on Jan. 17 at the Alaska State Museum, where 390 kids learned about ice and snow.
"The whole idea was to use ice and snow to excite the kids," Wasilewski said. "They actually froze water and polarized light, the same kind of things I have on the wall."
All things considered, Wasilewski seems delighted and satisfied with the journey he's taken while in his long career of studying ice.
"It's like coming full circle," he said. "I started off my science career studying ice. Now I'm ending my science career studying ice and snow. My main interest is putting science and art and music and art together with ice and snow."
• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or email@example.com.
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