Augmented reality mural series celebrates women, space and science

"A Cluster of Enigmas," by artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya.  (Image credit: Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya)

Space, science and incredible women take center stage in "A Cluster of Enigmas," an awe-inspiring, colorful mural that uses augmented reality to make art come to life.

The mural, painted on a brick wall near the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, is the first in a series of murals called "Findings," by artist Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya. As described in a statement on the Findings' project website, is "a vibrant AR-enabled mural pairing a mysterious class of cosmological entities with the luminous, diverse women of New York City."

The piece showcases science, specifically brown dwarfs, which are strange cosmic objects too small to be considered stars but much more massive than planets their size, as "the mural's scientific underpinnings" are inspired by the work of Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist and astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, according to the same statement. Faherty's research specializes in the study of brown dwarfs.

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In fact, the mural even depicts the "crazy atmospheres" of brown dwarfs with the clouds in the painting, Faherty told "I like to describe them as windows into the universe, that they give us info on stars and planets," Faherty said about brown dwarfs. In the mural, "you get the red-type silicate cloud dominated L-dwarfs and the blue to purplish Y-dwarfs and T-dwarfs that are methane dominated. It's very cool." 

"A Cluster of Enigmas," painted in Oct. 2020, depicts four women "grouped together, each cloaking a part of themselves," according to the statement. On the leftmost side, the painting highlights Dr. Josephine English, an OB-GYN doctor and the first Black woman to open a private practice in NYC, OB-GYN practice in New York who was also one of Brooklyn's earliest medical pioneers.

"It is only fitting that as a pioneer in her field she sits among the stars," the statement reads. 

Phingbodhipakkiya, who studied neuroscience at Columbia University before becoming a full-time artist and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) advocate, invited community members to participate in creating the mural, helping to paint the brick wall. 

Now, while the mural itself is a striking and colorful piece of art, it also incorporates augmented reality. The mural is paired with a free AR app that allows people visiting the mural in-person (or even remotely) to explore the art and the science behind the art further. 

"A Cluster of Enigmas," was the first in the "Findings" series and will be followed by "We Contain Multitudes," a mural in Washington D.C. Following this next installation, Phingbodhipakkiya has murals planned for Denver, Oakland, California and Seattle. The series is the result of Phingbodhipakkiya's partnership with the Heising-Simons Foundation

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Chelsea Gohd
Senior Writer

Chelsea “Foxanne” Gohd joined in 2018 and is now a Senior Writer, writing about everything from climate change to planetary science and human spaceflight in both articles and on-camera in videos. With a degree in Public Health and biological sciences, Chelsea has written and worked for institutions including the American Museum of Natural History, Scientific American, Discover Magazine Blog, Astronomy Magazine and Live Science. When not writing, editing or filming something space-y, Chelsea "Foxanne" Gohd is writing music and performing as Foxanne, even launching a song to space in 2021 with Inspiration4. You can follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd and @foxannemusic.