In the introduction to her TED Talk, Genna Duberstein reflects on the magical childhood experience of chasing fireflies on a summer night.
“Can the sun rekindle our sense of wonder?” she asks. Duberstein is convinced it can. Through her creative work, she’s hoping to share that wonder with the rest of us.
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The Dayton native is making news as the co-producer of “Solarium,” a site-specific video installation created from NASA data about the sun. The immersive art exhibit is being shown at museums and planetariums throughout the country. “ I hope it gives people peace and awe,” Duberstein says.
Chances are you’ve come across something she has produced without knowing it. Her videos can be viewed on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel and have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek and National Geographic.
We chatted with Duberstein about her unusual occupation and interesting career path.
☀️ Q. What is your current title and job description?
I am the Senior Outreach Coordinator and Lead Multimedia Producer for the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.
My job is a bit hard to define. Sometimes I am interviewing scientists for news videos. Sometimes I am working on outreach events, presentations and press conferences. I manage the workload for our data visualization and animation teams and support our Spanish outreach initiative. I also do graphic design, develop exhibits with the Goddard Visitor Center, and write content as needed.
Right now, I’m working on a coffeetable book of Sun images, helping with a visual branding redesign for the department, editing a pilot episode for a podcast, and developing videos about Solar Orbiter, a mission that will travel over the Sun’s poles.
🌎 Q. Tell us about your early years in Dayton.
I grew up near Englewood and went to Northmont schools. I was a Yeck Fellow in high school at the Dayton Art Institute, a program that helped set me on a creative career path, for sure.
My grandmother studied art as a teen at DAI, and I took classes at DAI before I was even in elementary school, so it is a place I have a great deal of affection for. One of my earlier DAI memories is running laps around the red cylinders outside the building. As a kid, I called them “The Lipsticks,” but I would eventually learn that they are a single sculpture called “Firmament.” I think, though, it gave me the first taste of what an installation is, that you can physically enter art. I’m not sure I was ever supposed to have been inside the sculpture, but all that running around as a child probably put me one step closer to coming up with “Solarium.”
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🌌 Q. What kind of child were you and what were your interests? Who influenced you?
My parents, Mindy and David Duberstein, are amazing, hardworking people. My family owns and operates A. E. David Uniforms, which has been serving the Dayton area since 1940. I even though I am in a different field, I learned so much simply by watching them do their jobs well. Growing up in a household that depends on a family business taught me so much. My parents modeled how it was important to be a team player, pay attention to details, and take care of your customers.
My customers are the American public, who view my content online, interact with me at events, and read the materials I write. I take that responsibility seriously, largely due to watching my parents look out for the firefighters, police officers, and other uniformed professionals in our community.
As a kid, I had an interest in art and storytelling. I liked science and got good grades in school, but I never saw it as being a part of my future.
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☀️ Q. What was your education after high school?
I went to The Ohio State University for college, where I studied Spanish and Studio Art. I learned to work in video production while doing an oral-history project for a history class. While in school, I worked for the OSU medical center’s video production team. My boss and mentor there, Carrie Beyer, encouraged me to get a master’s degree. I later moved to D.C. to pursue an MFA from American University.
I always knew I wanted to do something with storytelling, but I didn’t think it would be for science. Originally, I thought I would work on social issue media. That changed during grad school, when I was working at the National Science Foundation. I realized I liked science stories. It was happy news, for the most part. I liked that you were helping people understand the world around them.
🌎 Q. What’s your role as a film producer?
I really enjoy interviewing scientists and the translation process of bringing their ideas to the public. I think accessibility is important. I like to find interesting angles that make complex topics exciting folks to who wouldn’t say they were particularly interested in science.
As a producer, I pitch stories, write scripts, shoot and edit video. I also project manage my videos, doing logistics for getting all the footage or audio we need for a story. This includes working closely with animators, data visualizers, science writers, social media managers, designers, and sometimes other producers or videographers. I also field media inquiries, help with press events, and assist our scientists in engaging with the public.
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🌌 Q. Tell us about one of your favorite projects.
I am proud of “Solarium,” the site-specific video installation that my co-producer and I made from NASA data. It is basically ultra-HD footage of the Sun that is edited to be immersive, along with a low, rumbling audio soundtrack that cocoons the room.
The audio is data, too, representing movement on the Sun’s surface. There is no narration or text in the video. The goal is to create a mindfulness experience, one where the viewer can simply be present with the beauty and scale of the footage. We wanted to inspire more than inform. We launched “Solarium” in 2014 and have had 19 installations in just five years. Our first international “Solarium” opened in Quebec in June, and it was so exciting to see all of our materials translated into French. I’d love to bring it home to Dayton!
I have a collection of fan art from the project. After seeing it, graphic designers have sent me posters and photographers printed photos they took in that space. A group of dance students at Arizona State University did a choreographed piece in a “Solarium” out there, and they sent me pictures of the performance.
One of my favorites is from an elementary school student who sent me the PowerPoint he made to tell his class about his trip to Washington, D.C. “Our Solarium at the Goddard Visitor Center ” had three slides of him and his sister posing with the footage, but all of the iconic landmarks of D.C. were condensed to a single page.
I’d like to bring Solarium to more public spaces, especially stressful ones like hospitals or airports. Recently, I did a video about Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s closest mission to the Sun. The “Why Won’t It Melt?” video is particularly notable because it drove roughly 4,500 new subscribers to the Goddard YouTube channel within a week of its posting. It has over 1.2 million views.