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What to Wear to Work When You’re an Astronomer

Do you have an asteroid named after you? Lucianne Walkowicz does. The astronomer, who got her PhD at the University of Washington, was immortalized last year in the designation of the main-belt asteroid 205599 Walkowicz. While that sounds glamorous, science isn’t typically known for its fashion plates. And yet, “far-out” is one way to describe what this shining star wears to work.

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Image courtesy Lucianne Walkowicz

Born and raised: New York City, NY

Current position: Astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, IL; TED Senior Fellow

Describe what you do on an average day in 12 words or less: I study planets orbiting other stars and talk with visitors about science.

Favorite place to get lunch on a workday: The taco stand on the beach that’s right next to the planetarium (when it’s warm out, anyway!).

Favorite after-work cocktails, dinner or happy hour spot: I love the cocktails at Scofflaw in Logan Square, which change with the seasons, and the dangerous punches at Punch House in Pilsen. For a bite to eat I can often be found at the Chicago Diner with its delicious, completely meat-free menu.

What do you think of when you think of “dressing professionally”? Do you have role models or style icons, or even film or music references? My style is inspired by French New Wave movies, punk rock and surf culture. The challenge for me has always been to find ways to dress “professionally” that balance my own personal style with approachability and comfort—because my profession sounds intimidating, it’s important that our guests feel at ease asking me questions! And while I want to look put-together, I also think it’s important to be a little unexpected—too many people think scientists are all white-haired men in lab coats, and I can help change that.

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Wearing: Walkowicz made her dress; she wears it with wedge booties by Belle by Sigerson Morrison.
“My talk at TED this year was an astronomer’s take on environmentalism, so I had fabric printed showing before and after NASA satellite imagery of ice melt in Greenland.”

Best compliment received on something you’ve worn to work: I’m not much of a seamstress and was really stressed out about making [the above dress] for such a high-profile talk, but I’m happy with how it turned out! And the talk went well too. I also showed the time-lapse imagery printed on my dress as an animation in my talk—someone afterwards told me I looked like a hologram. 

Style uniform: On Earth Day I gave a public presentation for about 500 elementary school kids that involved firing toilet paper out of a leaf blower and spiking a giant beach ball, all in the name of science—for really active days like that, you can’t beat a pair of Joe’s jeans for their awesome, slightly stretchy hourglass fit and a pair of galaxy-print Vans.

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Walkowicz (right) with art collaborator Kayla Lewis (left) before being interviewed for a book on cross-disciplinary arts to be published by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; “Maybe one of the best things about my offbeat job is that I can wear a kimono to work and no one bats an eyelash! Did you know that in Japanese mythology, rabbits live on the moon?”
Image courtesy Lucianne Walkowicz

Style philosophy: When I buy new clothes, it’s really important to me that they be cruelty-free: that means no leather, no down, no fur trim. I really appreciate that a lot of companies have gotten better at making vegan leather goods and labeling them as such. The options that are out there now are so lovely and durable.

Follow: Lucianne Walkowicz on Twitter | Lucianne Walkowicz on Adler Planetarium

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—Rachel Shimp