Art inspired by an asteroid

January 25, 2023

Arizona State University sophomore Alyssa Armstrong considers herself lucky to have discovered the School of Arts, Media and Engineering Manufacturing Lab while she was only a freshman.

Fascinated by the programming tools provided by the so-called Fab Lab, the mechanical engineering major and art minor jumped at the chance to work there, quickly learning about processes like 3D printing and laser cutting.

ASU sophomore Alyssa Armstrong was selected as an intern in ASU’s Psyche Inspired program along with a team of students who will use art to inform the public about a special asteroid in our solar system called Psyche. Photo courtesy of Alyssa Armstrong

Armstrong was recently selected as an intern in ASU’s Psyche Inspired program along with a team of students who will use art to inform the public about a special asteroid in our solar system called Psyche.

Armstrong credits the knowledge and experience she gained at the Fab Lab, especially the opportunity to collaborate with fellow ASU students and staff members Dan Jackson, Caroline Fernandez and Pete Weissman, in helping her secure the internship.

“They were always available to answer any questions I had and guided me through the process,” she said. “Teamwork plays a big part of working in the Fab Lab; since everyone comes with different skills and experiences, we learn from each other’s strengths.”

Armstrong is enthusiastic about the Psyche Inspired program and recently took some time to share how working as part of the Arts, Media and Engineering Fab Lab team has informed the work he does within the program.

Q: When did you start working at Fab Lab?

Answer: It was my first semester as a freshman in the fall of 2021. As an engineering major, I wanted more hands-on experience and was eager to learn more about 3D modeling and computer-aided design, so I enrolled in ART 218: 3D Tools. I attended workshops offered at the Fab Lab and was fascinated by the programming tools one could use to manipulate 3D objects and began working more in the project space. Then another student worker in the lab asked me if I would like to work there and I was thrilled. I applied as a student and started working soon after.

Q: What did you accomplish while working at the Fab Lab that prepared you for your internship with the Psyche Inspired program?

A: The 3D printers we use have generic programming code loaded into their system that is not specific to how they function. I was able to customize the programming code to be specific to the Fab Lab printers, which helped overcome some of the issues we were experiencing with the technology.

Q: How else has the hands-on experience available at the Fab Lab been helpful?

A: When it comes to engineering and design, having this knowledge is crucial; practical experience helps. The tools available in the Fab Lab (such as 3D printing, laser cutting, and joinery) helped me see how to bring different components of a project together for design and engineering. I learned that it is vital when designing to consider elements such as who will use the product, how it will be used, and what material must be used to meet the functionality needs of the final product.

Q: What tools did you use for the artwork that supported your application for the Psyche Inspired program?

A: When you apply to Psyche Inspired, they ask for images of three works of art. I shared two digital paintings and a laser cut journal made in the Fab Lab. With laser cutting, ideas can come to life as long as you have the skills and access to them. I used Adobe Illustrator to design the file that the laser cutter would use to print and cut the material. I wouldn’t be able to produce these things if I didn’t have access to these tools.

Q: What does your internship with the NASA Psyche Inspired program involve?

A: We learn about the Psyche mission and create artwork inspired by the mission so more people know about it. We are also discussing possible ways we can help inform the public about the mission.

Q: What did you learn about Psyche’s mission that you expect will inform the artwork you create?

A: The spacecraft that will go to the asteroid will use various sensors to send back data, such as what it is made of and information about its magnetic field. I met with Dr. Rona Oran, who was working on Psyche’s magnetic field models, and I noticed that some of the diagrams show magnetic fields everywhere. I asked, “Why are there multiple fields? Is it possible that Psyche has multiple poles?’ Dr. Oran explained to me that when Psyche was once a small object, it was struck by other objects, and if Psyche’s core was still hot during the impacts, it would have caused a magnetic field to mix. If Psyche has a magnetic field, this is a sign that this asteroid may once have been a planet. Reading the light reflected from the asteroid will give us information about what metals the object is made of. Since Psyche is a metal, this leads us to believe that it could potentially be the core of a larger planet.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment from working at the Fab Lab and being part of the Psyche Inspired intern team?

A: Engineering is problem solving at its core – the big thing about it is determination and continuing until you find a solution that will work. Go through the design and brainstorming processes over and over until you get it right.

Armstrong is slated to graduate in 2025 with a BSE in Mechanical Engineering from the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and a minor in Studio Art from the Herberger Institute of Design and School of Art. The Psyche Inspired program showcases artwork made by interns throughout the year. For more information on the program and mission, visit

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