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CONTACT: Bruce Smith
Public Information Officer
(310) 434-4209
DATE: July 19, 2006


Santa Monica College astronomy professor Dr. Simon Balm will be the scientific advisor on the creation of a large-scale art installation on the Antarctic Ice Shelf this December as part of a unique project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Balm will be working with internationally renowned artist Lita Albuquerque of Los Angeles on the unique installation, which will consist of approximately 100 blue spheres that will reflect a portion of the southern sky on the precise date of the Winter Solstice. Each sphere in the piece will be positioned to reflect a star’s exact location in the sky and placed on the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo Sound, in front of the active volcano Mount Erebus.

The NSF’s Artists and Writers Program recently made the decision to invite Albuquerque and her team to do the installation.

“This is an amazing opportunity to combine science and art in such a unique way,” says Balm, who has previously conducted research at the South Pole three times, most recently in 1995-96.

As technical advisor, Balm will generate maps and coordinates and drill holes in the ice for the placement of the spheres, ensuring that each one is in the correct position to reflect the corresponding star. Spheres vary in size from 10 inches to 4 feet across, and the full installation will be at least 400 feet in diameter.

Balm has actually been working with Albuquerque for the past few years in planning the art installation, dubbed “Stellar Axis: Antarctica.” Albuquerque says “Stellar Axis” is the culmination of her “decades-long exploration into the relationship between the stellar and the terrestrial.”

Balm says that under the guidance of the NSF, the installation will conform to the stringent environmental constraints on work in the Antarctic while highlighting the continent’s importance as a location for astronomical and environmental research.

Balm and Albuquerque will be part of a team that will also include two documentary filmmakers and a photographer. Additional information can be found at

A native of London, Balm received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry from the University of Durham in 1988 and his Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Sussex in 1992, working with Nobel laureate chemist Sir Harry Kroto.

After graduate school, he spent two years as a NATO Postdoctoral Fellow in the UCLA Astronomy Department followed by four years as a fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., where he helped to design, build and install a radio telescope at the geographic South Pole. In 1996, he spent a whole year at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station collecting data with the telescope.

Balm, who has been a full-time astronomy professor at SMC since 2000, had previously been an adjunct professor at UCLA.

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