Jack Madden


United States


Rhode Island, United States



Jack Madden is an astrophysicist and artist who believes that our understanding of the Universe can be made helpful in our daily lives through art. He uses data, powerful computations, and a cosmic perspective to visualize new senses of meaning and reality. By making art to demystify our place in the Universe, Jack hopes to share a more stable relationship with it.

Jack received his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Cornell University in 2020 for work with the Carl Sagan Institute on modeling the climates of potentially habitable exoplanets. His work included designing and running computer simulations of exoplanets to determine how best to observe signs of life. In the Fall of 2020, he started as an MFA student in Digital+Media at the Rhode Island School of Design. At RISD, he works along the bridge between art and science to foster understanding and exploration across disciplines. His series, Complete Definitions, which uses word definitions to the closed and circular nature of language is currently exhibited in the RISD Museum after winning the Dorner Prize. 

Jack uses the skills he picked up during his astrophysics career to create art that brings together science and philosophy from a unique perspective. Programming, data manipulation, and lab techniques, and work that takes creative advantage of physics are common in his work. In keeping with the scientific tradition, his methods of production and code used to create work are open source. 


SUBMISSION: The Individual

With this work I challenge others to think about how they fit into an indifferent Universe. Does its emptiness provide a canvas where change is possible or are we in perfect equilibrium? By hand-painting a human figure on a rice grain the viewer is confronted by the limits of their own scale to see the image and by the scale at which the human is represented in the larger universe. Even though the figure is small and alone in a vast emptiness they are capable of standing out and creating visible change. 

This feeling of miniscule scale and the question of genuine impact represent a connection between astronomy and philosophy that I visualize through art as a way of reminding us of this dissonance and to eventually come to terms with it. Humans struggle with comprehending the vastness of space and this incomprehension can be unsettling. Accepting the small magnitude of our existence is an important step in forming a more comfortable relationship with scale and the Universe. 

Using a brush made from carbon nanotube thread and a microscope, I’m able to paint at a scale limited only by the precision of my hand movement. The figures are just barely distinguishable to the naked eye. How does it feel that the Universe contains scales at which a human, the Earth, and even the Solar System become indistinguishable?