Arts and Humanities

Expanding the horizon of science

Carolina students launch a digital publication to share stories and art inspired by science.

An event horizon, according to UNC-Chapel Hill junior Raymond Blackwell, is a boundary in space-time where scientists’ current understanding of physics breaks down.

But, he added, it’s also where some of the most fun and creative discussions about science take place.

That’s why Blackwell, along with Carolina students John Cruickshank and Fedor Kossakovski, named their new publication Event Horizon. It’s a submission-based online magazine that dedicates itself to sharing stories and art inspired by science.

“A piece we feature might be anything from a poem that uses a scientific idea as a central metaphor, to a short story about the life of a scientist, to a nonfiction piece that explores a particular field of research,” said Cruickshank. “We want each piece we publish to carry some authentic connection to the world of science, and in the end, human stories are what we’re after.”

The idea for the magazine came up during frequent lunchtime discussions between the three science majors.

“We were always talking about science in a different way: how it affects our daily lives and how we can connect with it on a personal level,” said Blackwell. “After talking to other friends, we noticed that almost everyone was interested in the intersection of science and the humanities, something similar to Cosmos, and there was a need that we felt we could fulfill. That’s how it started.”

Event Horizon officially launched Sept. 4 with an event at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. The kickoff gathered students, faculty and community members together for an evening of mingling – and previewing the magazine’s first issue on tablets. One contributor, Ashley Harris, performed a piece of her poetry in what Blackwell called a highlight of the night.

Blackwell, Cruickshank and Kossakovski said they have also been lucky to have support along the way. The Planetarium provides the trio with event space and organizational guidance, while financial and legal support have been provided by Faster LLC, an angel investment firm based in Chapel Hill. Faster even agreed to sponsor a short story competition, offering a $500 grand prize.

The student editors of Event Horizon also said they owe credit to their advisers, Joe DeSimone, Gabrielle Calvocoressi and Laura Miller. DeSimone, the first professor in the state of North Carolina to be elected to all three branches of the National Academies, assists the three with maintaining scientific integrity. Calvocoressi, the Walker Percy Fellow in Poetry and Senior Poetry Editor for The Los Angeles Review of Books, offers editorial guidance, and Miller, associate professor of biology and mathematics, offers an interdisciplinary perspective and connects them with visual artists who focus on science.

“Simply put, our advisers are why we’re still here,” Blackwell said. “The fact that our advisers continue to believe in us and get so excited about Event Horizon pushes us to create the best publication we can.”

“From our advisors to our contributors, we’ve found knowledge and stories everywhere we’ve turned,” Cruickshank said. “There are so many talented people at UNC. And between the arts and sciences, I think there’s a lot of latent admiration and interest. Through Event Horizon, maybe a scientist feels she has a place for artistic expression. Maybe that expression fosters new interest in science. The best we can do is offer that forum.”

Event Horizon is focused in the short term on sharing great content with its audiences, but it eventually hopes to expand partnerships into other media and educational ventures. The magazine already shares additional bite-sized content through its social media accounts. SpaceVision, the annual national conference of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, invited Event Horizon to cover its event as official press. And this summer, the group plans to film a webisode series that profiles scientists in various European countries. They are working on securing funding to send the three editors as well as two cameramen.

Blackwell plans to attend graduate school in Fall 2016 to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry with support from the McNair Scholars program. He said he would like to continue working with Event Horizon in graduate school. Cruickshank is writing the UNC Creative Writing Program’s first honors thesis in nonfiction and said that he would like to keep writing in some form after he graduates in May. Kossakovski said he is still making decisions about his future.

While they may have different plans, all three students agree they want to remain involved in the collaboration between science and the humanities.

“Bringing these two communities together benefits both equally,’’ Kossakovski said. “As for the future, it’s too early to tell, but we really hope it will include Event Horizon.”