The Power of Ten Show

Ariel Waldman ‘Hacking Science for Collaboration’

John Carter
August 22, 2019
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The Power of Ten Show
August 22, 2019

Ariel Waldman ‘Hacking Science for Collaboration’

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Episode shownotes

Show Links
Andy Polaine on Twitter: @apolaine
Ariel Waldman on Twitter: @arielwaldman
Ariel’s website:
Ariel’s YouTube channel:
Ariel’s Patreon site:
Science Hack Day:
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program:

Episode Transcript

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Andy: Hello, and welcome to Power of Ten. A podcast about design operating at many levels, from thoughtful detail, through to organisational transformation, to the changes in society and the world. My name is Andy Polaine, a designer, educator, and writer, currently group director of client evolution at Fjord. My guest today is Ariel Waldman. Ariel makes massively multiplayer science, creating unusual collaboration that infuse serendipity into science and space exploration. Ariel, welcome to Power of Ten.

Ariel: Yes, thank’s so much for having me.

Andy: Now, normally, and I do a bit of a longer bio of people and explain what they’ve done. It’s usually something like, this person studied here and started designing here, and then they started designing there. Now, they do this. As I just started to do it for you, I realised it would be very long, because you’re truly a polymath, but you’re also all over the internet and you do lots of different things. Could you tell us what you do?

Ariel: A lot of my work is about getting people from all different backgrounds to contribute to science and space exploration. I’m an advisor to NASA innovative advanced concepts. A program that funds more futuristic sci-fi and out their ideas that could be helpful for future space missions. I’m also the global director of science hack-day, which is an event in 30 countries around the world that gets all different types of people together to see what they can prototype in one weekend.

Beyond that, I’ve authored a book called: What’s it like in space, I’ve co-authored a national academy of sciences report on the future of human space flight. I just like to work on a lot of fun things. My background is, I went to art school and my degree is in graphic design. I very much made a jump from the design world into science and space, very unexpectedly, but I try to combine it all together still to this day.

Andy: Somewhere on your bio, you said you stumbled into a gig at NASA. I’m fascinated to know; how do you stumble into a gig at NASA?

Ariel: Yes, it was very unexpected, I was literally watching a documentary about NASA a few years ago, it was a documentary about the early space missions and how they were trying to figure out how to send humans into space for the very first time. Something I found really interesting about the documentary was that they were interviewing people from mission control and they were talking about how they didn’t really know anything about spacecrafts, or obits, or rockery when NASA was getting started. They were having to figure it out as they went along.

I was watching this, and I said to a friend, well, that’s awesome. I don’t know anything about space exploration, and I want to work at NASA. That would be amazing. I decided then on a whim to send an email to someone at NASA that I had never met. Didn’t know anything about them, saying that I was just a huge fan of their work and if they ever needed a volunteer or something, that I was around. The day I emailed them, they had just put up a job description and said, well, why don’t you apply for this job? I applied. I ended up getting the job. I was a fan of NASA for all of a couple of weeks at that point. It was unexpected.

Andy: It sounds like such an unbelievable story. Well, I was watching TV and so I just emailed NASA and then someone wrote back to me and I got a job.

Ariel: Yes, and things like that happen. I recently went to Antarctica and I talked to a guy down there who was watching Anthony Bourdain’s show about him going to Antarctica and he did kind of the same thing. He emailed someone about it, applied for a job, and then ended up down in Antarctica, thanks to Bourdain’s show. It happens, I guess.

Andy: I feel like there must be a little bit that we’re missing here, though, you said you went to art school, you studied graphic design, didn’t know anything about space but presumably, you’ve had some interest in science and engineering or space or something? Or did you just study the wrong thing at college, what happened there?

Ariel: No, I generally wasn’t very interested in science or space. It’s like, sure, I watched Star Trek, and I didn’t dislike space or science, but it never was really interesting to me. I don’t really blame anyone for that, when I was pretty young, I was into art a lot, then when I was 14 years’ old, I got into my head that my dream job was to be an executive creative director. I worked my butt off for years towards that goal. I was just obsessed with design. I still am. Yes, science and space, I didn’t dislike them, but they weren’t really something I saw as a dream, or something that I was particularly more interested in than anything else.

Actually, it really wasn’t until watching that documentary and then getting the opportunity, that it really turned me around. I think a lot of that has to do with, I think there are a lot of things that people would find interesting if they were given a salaried job to do it. Those opportunities to just jump into a place or jump into a place as special as NASA aren’t always around, or aren’t always promoted, or people aren’t aware.

That’s what really sent me on the mission that I’ve been on since I got the job at NASA, was trying to really illuminate for people all the ways in which you can contribute to space exploration and science, without leaving your current career. Ways in which people have valuable ways of looking at the world outside of space and science that can still benefit space and science.

Andy: If I was doing – I share a similar fascination and I’ve read Chris Hatfield’s book and I think, this sounds incredible, who also had a similar journey in the sense that he at least saw the moon landing on TV and like a lot of kids thought, that’s what I want to do and eventually did. I guess part of me would be thinking, NASA is a very special place, I think it’s probably perhaps one of the few places where you might be able to just jump in like you did. I, as a fluffy designer, might be thinking, well, they’re all going to be engineers and scientists and they’re going to be very driven by data and numbers, and I’m going to struggle culturally there. You’ve completely flourished. Is my understanding or my imagination of what NASA is like completely wrong and that’s part of your job is to turn that perception around, or do you think you have a particular take on it?

Ariel: Well, I think it’s really the fact that I find a lot of science and space institutions, whether it’s NASA or academia or what have you, are kind of I don’t know how to say this in a way that’s not as offensive as I mean, but they’re half-baked. By that, I mean, they don’t have all the resources that they need in order to make their work as awesome as it possibly could be. For instance, what often happens at NASA or other science institutions when they need to make a website, or they need to make a podcast, or something like that. Instead of saying, okay, we’re going to find someone who lives and breathes websites or someone who lives and breathes podcasts and we’re going to bring them in and have them help us. Instead of doing that, they look around at everyone who already works there and says, who can build this website? Who can do this podcast? Those people might have some skill to be able to do that, but they’re not coming from an entirely different discipline.

You don’t get people who can really make something incredibly awesome who live and breathe other areas. Having a design background and coming into NASA is an incredibly valuable thing. People might not entirely understand it at first, it really just depends on the people, but when you can show them what you can do, you become that awesome rocket scientist engineer in your own right, because you have your own set of skills and your own ways of looking at things that is entirely new.

That’s where a lot of value can be added. It’s true whether or not it’s a website or working on a future space mission, what I quickly realised by getting this job at NASA was that NASA and other places really need people from a lot of different backgrounds in order to truly be successful. By staying so narrowly focused on people from only one specific type of discipline, in a way, it could almost be seen as reckless because they’re missing out on a lot of expanded and serendipitous ways of doing things that might not exist unless they actually engage a broad audience of people.

Andy: One of the things you’ve done a lot of is getting a lot of those people together to create those serendipitous connections. As far as I can understand, that’s what science hack-day is basically trying to also get people to do. I saw some examples of it, there are lots of people who didn’t collaborate previously who end up doing unusual things, or things outside of their field, or extending what they do. Tell us a little bit about science hack-day.

Ariel: Yes, you got it right. Science hack-day is all about getting people from all different backgrounds together in the same physical space to see what they can rapidly prototype with science in 24 consecutive hours. We have particle physicists and designers, technologists, lawyers, roboticists, writers, people from all over. We have a lot of people who are like, I don’t have any skills, can I still show up? It’s like, yes, the whole thing is, you don’t need to have any specific skills or feel like you’re an expert in anything, it’s really just about wanting to show up and figure out how to prototype something over a weekend, even if you’ve never prototyped anything in your life. What I really love about science hack-day is that it’s not an event where scientists are the mentors or the people in which everyone is trying to learn from.

Scientists are learning from designers as much as designers are learning from scientists. That’s what I really love. Some people will work with science data who have never worked with science data before, but equally, you have scientists working with design programs and prototyping on Arduinos for the very first time. They’re learning new things. Really, it’s essentially the thing that I would like to happen in the world organically on its own, but I discovered doesn’t really happen. I wanted to give people an excuse to be able to come together and collaborate in that way.

Andy: Why do you think it hasn’t been organically happening?

Ariel: People are weird. I don’t know. Part of the reason I brought it to San Francisco was because in San Francisco you’ve got Google and you’ve got Genentech and NASA. You’ve got essentially big tech in Silicon Valley. You’ve also got big science; you’ve got these huge science centres. They’re right next to each other. You would think there would be all of this amazing collaboration. Especially Google and NASA are next-door neighbours. You would think they’d be hanging out with each other for lunch, and dreaming up cool collaborations, what have you.

A perfect example was, I had some friends from NASA visiting Google years ago, and they were Tweeting, going like, oh, my god, we’re at Google, this is so cool. Then I also heard about people at Google being like, there are people from NASA here, oh, my god. They love each other, but they don’t hang out with each other. I thought that was ridiculous. That was definitely part of the motivation for science hack-day, was saying, well, clearly, we need some excuse to put all of these people in the same place, even though they’re right next to each other.

Andy: Is the co-led program, or is the co-led program still going?

Ariel: No, unfortunately, that program ran out of funding shortly after I joined. The co-led program was all about bringing people from communities inside and outside of NASA together. Part of the reason I was hired at NASA initially was because they thought it would be valuable to actually have someone who had no experience with NASA to help bridge that gap.

Andy: Do you think it’s been helpful, because now, when we look at your very well-followed YouTube channel, when you talk about Neutrinos and things, you talk with great authority about them. do you think it’s been helpful for you not to have that naïve point of view? To say, what are Neutrinos? Can you tell me about them?  You’re seeing them with those kinds of fresh eyes and then reflect that back in the videos you make?

Ariel: Yes, absolutely. I think coming from a different discipline and later in life, and I say later relatively speaking, just like not a teenager, I guess, but coming into science later means that you sort of hold onto and remember when you’ve learned everything for the first time. I think a lot of people forget how valuable that is in any discipline, just remembering the first time you learned something that was maybe obvious to other people or maybe not even obvious, that’s very valuable.

I would say also for me, coming from a design background, being trained in essentially communication and knowing with design how if you tweak things one way or the other, how it changes communication and how it changes perception is incredibly valuable. I feel that designers whether or not they’re good public speakers, know a whole lot about communication and just how to wield it. Coming into any discipline outside of design, if you apply yourself to any other discipline, you’re going to have a leg-up because of that training and communication.

Andy: Yes, it’s interesting. That’s one of the things that we take for granted quite a lot, but at the same time, it sounds like extreme expertise is normalised as well at NASA. That everyone around you is equally expert, so you lose some of the awesomeness in actually the proper definition of that word about what they’re actually doing. Your job has been to also get people inside NASA to collaborate with each other. Was it different culturally then to get those kinds of people to collaborate together, or were they open to it? What was it like?

Ariel: It was interesting. I got this initial job at NASA in 2008. For NASA, that was an interesting time because they really were not fully up to speed on social media at all. A lot has changed over the last decade with NASA and their relationship with social media. In 2008, there were a few people using social media, but it still wasn’t an accepted practice across the board. This idea also that comes with social media of being more open and open data and open source and everything was still new to them in that year. Even though these were all things that anyone who worked in these areas, it wasn’t new. Getting people to work together or open up their stuff, I wouldn’t say people were against it, but it was definitely still a new thing that didn’t exactly make sense. I feel like for a lot of these things to be successful, you need people to understand them in a way that these sorts of things like opening up your information is just a natural part of things, instead of an extra piece of work.

That was definitely a major struggle, was trying to get people to understand ways in which it can be integrated, so that it won’t feel like extra work in order to open stuff up, as opposed to what a lot of people viewed, which was, I’m already overloaded, and now you’re telling me I have to do all of this extra stuff on top of it. You have no idea how people are going to use it. There was definitely that stuff, but I think that wasn’t specific to NASA, I ran into those sorts of issues at other organisations, I think the thing that did excite a lot of NASA programs, though, were the idea that they could actually get help with things where they are overloaded, or underfunded.

I think that’s always been the most valuable part. Even though a lot of science institutions have the problem of being narrow and not reaching out as much as they should, they do like the idea of people actually wanting to help them. I think a lot of education is just around how to be open to people helping you in ways that you can’t anticipate because I think a lot of them know specific things that they would like help on because they’re overloaded.

A lot of movement around my work is trying to get people to open up to possibilities that they haven’t thought through and getting them to be open to the fact that those could be incredible valuable to them, even if they can’t see it right now. A lot of times, I’m just trying to open more people up for more serendipity by having collaboration from people from backgrounds in which they can’t anticipate how they would be helpful yet.

Andy: Right, and storytelling plays a massive part in that, I’m guessing, all the way through. Talking of which, you wrote a book called: What’s It Like in Space? The story is from astronauts who have been there. It’s not a Carl Sagan style, what’s it like in space?  It’s really quite… there are lots of little snippets of the day-to-day of people’s lives, and then there’s other stuff in there too. That was the fascinating bit for me, was, the hacks, actually, and some of them were social hacks. I’ve just got the page here of the sock over the doorknob. The thing about in space, a towel over the circular entrance to a docking compartment is the orbital, do not disturb sign. No one really actually thought, we need to design for this, we need to design for something. There seems to be an awful lot of things in the book that’s very much like that, the social design and social hacks that have happened.

Ariel: Yes, that’s definitely a way of putting it, for me, I really wanted to make a book about the more funny and embarrassing stories that people have had in space, something to make it a bit more light-hearted because going to space is a big deal, but I had in my career, been meeting a number of astronauts and had the great privilege to actually sit down with a number of them, one-on-one. They would tell me just these silly ridiculous stories about when they had been in space and I kept coming home with these funny stories from astronauts to my husband.

Then thought, well, maybe I should make them into a book, since not everyone gets to hear these stories. I really wanted to showcase a different side of space exploration that, yes, sometimes shows the mundane stuff, but it shows the silliness and the mundane stuff, and also, all the gross stuff that you have to deal with, with going into space. Yes, stories about the fact that you can’t burp in space without accidentally throwing up, or the fact that space for the first four days is incredibly uncomfortable being your face becomes really bloated. Things where people are like, yes, space, not so great, is it?

Andy: It came across when reading it, it’s like a giant road/camping trip in a vehicle you’ve never, ever been in before, that everything is incredibly dangerous. There were a lot of things and hacks and bits of gaffer tape and all sorts. There were lots of bodily function stuff. There was a lot about going to the toilet and things and how difficult that is. I guess all the stuff you take for granted, right, when there’s gravity. When it’s not there. There was a lovely – one of the stories was about astronauts coming back, forgetting that there’s gravity on earth and would just throw a cup and leave something go expecting it to float.

Ariel: Yes.

Andy: You also said that they’re often inspired to explore space with a childlike wonder. That really appealed to me. There is quite a lot of playfulness in many of the stories. Do you have any favourites of that kind of thing?

Ariel: I have all sorts of favourites. Some of them are the more mundane ones. Like, for me, one of the stories I really liked, I think because I could personally relate to it a lot was, I interviewed Anusha Ansari, who’s the first Iranian to go into space, also the first woman to go into space privately funded. She wasn’t a government astronaut, but she trained with all the astronauts and went through a lot of rigorous stuff to go up there.  She was talking about how usually you have these zippered of Velcro pockets, so you don’t lose stuff. She had some lip gloss or something like that. She had put it in her pocket, but forgot to close her pocket, so it floated out of her pocket. Here she is in space for the very first time, and she can’t find her lip gloss.

She’s not worried about loosing the lip gloss, but you’re in the international space station, a lot of things could break if there are things flying around in it. She lost it, she’s like, oh, my god, this should break a bunch of modules, or ruin something. I’m in space for the first time, oh, my god, they’re going to kill me. I’m being such a klutz. She just conveyed to me this total embarrassment of having lost something, totally worried she was going to screw everything up, being embarrassed in front of other people. She stressed about it for a couple of days or something before fessing up to the main captain or whatever in the international space station.

He was like, yes, no big deal, all the stuff that floats around gets caught in this one venting system. It’ll probably be there. Of course, it was there, and everything was fine. When she was telling me this story about just how embarrassed she was and just how much it was that whole first day at school, or new kid at work, or something feeling. You’re in space and feeling that way. I loved that story just because I’m like, that’s totally how I would feel.

I feel like with a lot of government astronauts, not all of them, but a lot of them are pretty buttoned up and they’re like, yes, we knew everything we were doing, there was nothing we didn’t know, it was really delightful to get to hear from someone who is just like, yes, I was totally worried I screwed everything up and that they were going to hate me and I was going to be seen as this completely incompetent person.

Andy: There’s got to be a whole book around insecurity in space, to be written. You also talked about Vance Brand who fell asleep floating and he woke up and was really scared because his hands were – something was hanging in front of his face.

Ariel: It was his hands.

Andy: It was his own hands. It does sound like you’ve got the best job in the world; I have to say. As I talked to you before the recording, Power of Ten is named after the Ray and Charles Eames film: Powers of Ten, which zooms in or zooms out all the way beyond the solar system. Then back down into some atomic level. Actually, the videos you make cover all of those different levels of zoom. You’ve had, as I talked about Neutrinos before, but hacking a particle accelerator, to videos of other solar systems, of course, Antarctica and space exploration are in the middle. Are there any patterns or common elements or ideas and principles that you’ve observed when you’ve been thinking about or talking about telling stories about things at all of those different levels?

Ariel: I think for me, the thing that I’ve been talking about a lot recently that is dealing with those different levels is, I went to Antarctica to study life under the ice, to actually film microscopic life underneath the ice, to showcase that there’s a lot of ice in Antarctica, but you just can’t see much of it. I became on this journey of trying to get down to Antarctica, I became a certified microsopist, which was another unexpected turn for me. I’m in Antarctica and I’m filming these microbes, but so much of it has to do with showcasing who we might be able to find life on other icy moons in our solar system.

There are a number of moons in our solar system that have thick layers of ice but are thought to have oceans underneath those thick layers of ice. They could potentially have microbes of some sort on them, we don’t know. I feel like there’s a lot in terms of storytelling when talking about scale of realising how special earth is and using that as a way of exploring our solar system or other exoplanets, or the galaxy, or what have you. I think that’s been something that’s an interesting journey for me, personally, because when I started working at NASA, I definitely became a major space geek from it.

I was like, oh, my god, dark matter and going to the edge of our solar system. Our galaxy is really awesome. I got really excited about all of these planets and all of these things in space. Now that I’m a decade into this career, it’s been an interesting journey for me because I used to think it was… I’ll be honest, I thought it was kind of lame when you would ask a lot of astronauts, like, what’s your favourite planet? They’d say, “Earth”. I’d be like, snore. That’s so boring. Why would you say that? It’s Jupitar, come on.

Something, there are so many awesome planets. I have to admit that now that I’m like a decade in, I’ve kind of come full circle and the more you study space, the more you are really just enthralled with what is going on, on earth, just earth as a planet in general, obviously, yes, it’s special, there’s not human beings walking around on other planets. There’s just so much about it that’s so fascinating when you come back to it from the viewpoint of studying all of space, so to speak. I feel in terms of that Powers of Ten and scale and everything, really, looking at earth as this really fascinating planet and using it as a way of understanding other planets and understanding other moons and how things might be possible in other places is what’s really exciting. I feel like the more I study earth, the more close I feel to understanding other places in our solar system and in our galaxy and other galaxies, that’s what’s really exciting to me.

Andy: Yes, there’s a bit of a pattern I saw of that, I think that there seemed to be quite a lot of transferring knowledge from one domain into another. That’s where some of the discovery on interesting stuff comes from and that’s why the hacking the particle accelerator one, I’m laughing because you start off talking about these particle accelerators that have been built, they’re huge, they’re massive pieces of infrastructure.

Ariel: Usually, yes.

Andy: It’s like a long piece of motorway or something. Then they’re not needed anymore. People started hacking them. I’m sure it’s a little bit less simple than that. Can you talk about the photosynthesis thing? It’s really interesting. There’s this annoying thing that this thing does, but actually we can use that in a different way.

Ariel: Yes. That was something that I really just loved, which is, yes, there are these particle accelerators and when you build a bigger, better particle accelerator, often times, the old ones aren’t very useful anymore, because they’ve studied all they can study, they’re not really needed. You have these huge pieces of infrastructure that are incredibly costly to decommission and take apart. A lot of times, they just sit there, which is unfortunate.

Yes, at the Slack accelerator laboratory, which is in Silicon Valley, there is this long, linear accelerator, and they had been having issues where when electrons in the particle accelerator would wiggle, or go off-course, they would produce these tiny little x-rays, which were really annoying, so they tried everything that they could do to stop the electrons from wiggling.

When Slack ended up getting decommissioned, eventually, some people were like, this thing is creating tiny, little X-rays by accident. What could we use tiny, little x-rays for? They realised that if you have tiny, little x-rays, you essentially have tiny, little flashlights that you can shine on interesting things in the world. They actually hacked, in my view, the Slack accelerator to actually on purpose wiggle these electrons. They’ve got these things called wigglers, which do exactly that, which get them to go off-course and wiggle on purpose. They produce these tiny little x-rays, those tiny x-rays because they are so small and so quick, they can essentially film photosynthesis happening at the molecular level, in a movie-like, format, which hasn’t ever been seen before, so they’ve got this entire project all around trying to produce movies of photosynthesis happening at the molecular level.

That’s really important because if we can actually really understand how photosynthesis works, which we don’t fully understand just yet, then we have a shot at actually making artificial photosynthesis for our infrastructure, for biology, for what have you. It’s an incredibly powerful process that biology has developed here on earth, to be able to do that.  The more we can harness photosynthesis for ourselves, I think there’s a lot of imagination of what we could do with it. That’s really cool to me, the fact that these accelerator laboratories all over the world have been looked into and like, well, what could we do with them that is not their main mission, but is maybe bored out of things that were annoying or frustrating with them.

Andy: That’s, again, I think something that would really resonate with many designers. A lot of people get into design because of that feeling, like, why is it done that way? This could be done a better way, or there’s something here that I could do differently, I could see how it could be done differently. If there are listeners like me, there are probably plenty of people feeling like, “I’d love to be doing this.” How might they start getting involved in something like this?

Ariel: Yes, it just depends. There are ways in which you can do basic things, which is just realising that you, yourself, as you exist right now are valuable and for some people, it’s as simple as looking at job listings on NASA or NASA jet propulsion laboratory, which actually hires a lot of designers and interesting people. Sometimes it’s as simple as that, of just not closing yourself off to applying to random places. I’ve probably applied to Pixar, even though I’m not an animator and I have nothing to offer, but I’m like, it would be awesome to work at Pixar, why not? Sometimes it’s that.

Other times, it’s about creating open resources if you have a skillset to do so. The very first thing that I did when I left that NASA job, because I only had it for a very short time. I got this job at NASA and I realised, well, I don’t want to just work on space exploration as just some blip. I’m now hooked. I really want to do more stuff in space, but all I had was this blip on my resume of working at NASA for a few months. Not very long at all. I wanted to prove that I was valuable and had things to add. That’s when I built, which is a directory of ways in which anyone can participate in space exploration. This is because I just heard about a bunch of interesting projects, either run out of government or non-profits in which people without formal science backgrounds could contribute to space exploration. This was things like being able to test out space suits, or being able to discover galaxies, or all of these interesting projects, where you didn’t have to have a science background.

I decided to just build, initially, a WordPress site, just as a directory of all of these different things and re-translate them in a way in which anyone could understand them, so that anyone could find them easily. They were just difficult to find. That’s what really started to allow me to crawl back into having a career in space exploration over time, was saying, well, I’m launching this website that’s going to make it easy for anyone to discover opportunities in which they can contribute to space exploration. That was just because I had enough skillset to build a WordPress site, design it, and re-translate things in a way that people could understand.

I feel for some people, if you have the ability to make YouTube videos, or make a WordPress site, or even just start a blog where you’re documenting something that isn’t well documented that needs to exist in the world, that’s a way in which you can begin to get the attention of people who work in the space industry, or whatever industry it is that you want to get involved in and build relationships that can, over time, blossom into proving that you belong in that industry. Sometimes to get the actual job, it might take a while, but you might start getting speaking gigs where people want you to come speak about the things that you’ve built.

Again, this is just a good way of getting into anywhere, it kind of just the concept of making things and getting them out there. That’s certainly one direction in which you can consider. I think also just connecting with people who work in the industry that you want to work in is important. I do think that social media has greatly helped that. At least in the science and space industry, my experience has been that people are usually overjoyed to talk to you about how you could get involved, or how you could connect with people. I think certainly connecting with people on social media, making things without having permission to make them, just making things that you think should exist in the world. Then, yes, just throwing your hat into the ring of job postings and things like that, rather than discounting yourself. They are three ways to at least get started.

Andy: That’s very inspiring, and look at you, you sent an email to NASA and got a job.

Ariel: Yes.

Andy: You’re the proof. Look, we’re coming up to time, because of the theme of Power of Ten, I always ask guests what one small thing they feel has an outsized effect? It’s either something that exists already or something that should be or could be redesigned to have an outsized effect on the world, what would yours be?

Ariel: I mean, since my head is in this space, I would say microbes for sure. I think people don’t really think about how much microbes affect us. There’s a growing awareness about things like the microbiome and things like that, ways in which our microbes inside our body are affecting us. Also, just the microbes that live around us every day, so much of my work in Antarctica was filming these because you see all of these nature documentaries and you think you have this complete picture of what the earth is like. In the nature documentaries, they show you ants walking around, so you think you know all of the small things, but there are things incredibly smaller than ants that are just as fascinating and charismatic to watch.

There are these tiny, tiny animals’ knowns as rotifers and tiny animals that more people know about called tardigrades, that are able to survive these extreme environments. They just live everywhere on earth. I think the fact that we don’t have a good awareness about all of these very tiny animals, not even bacteria, but they are tiny animals, that live on earth, means that we don’t really have a complete picture of just how habitable our home planet is and what that has to say about our possibilities for finding life elsewhere in our solar system and certainly our galaxy.  To me, the tiny things that have an outsized effect are microbes for sure.

Andy: It’s perfect that you’ve zoomed all the way out, from beyond our solar system back down into microbes. Love it. Ariel, thank you very much. People can find you on, they can also find you on YouTube if they Google you, it’s called Ariel’s Space Time, or Ariel Waldman, I guess you’ll find either of them. Now, you’re also Ariel Waldman on Twitter, where else can people find you? Is there anywhere else that people should look?

Ariel: Yes, I’m Ariel Waldman on most places. I’m also on Patreon as Ariel Waldman and Instagram and yes, just Google my name, you’ll find me.

Andy: I guarantee, it’s worth Googling and finding. I went through quite a lot of time looking through all the videos. We didn’t really get to talk about the Antarctica stuff, because you’ve got a whole series of those, as well, on your YouTube channel, and they’re fascinating. Ariel, thank you very much for being my guest on Power of Ten.

Ariel: Yes, thanks so much for having me.

Andy: Thanks for listening to Power of Ten. If you want to learn more about other shows on the This is HCD Network, visit:, where you’ll find Prod Pod with Adrian Tan, Ethno Pod with Dr. John Curran, and Bringing Design Closer with Gerry Scullion. You’ll also find the transcripts and links mentioned in the show, and where you can also sign up to our newsletter, join our Slack channel to connect with other designers all around the world. My name is Andy Polaine, thank you for listening and I’ll see you next time.

End of Audio

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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