Jose Francisco Salgado, an adjunct professor at Benedictine University in Lisle, discovered his passions early in life.
The Puerto Rico-born astronomer, graphic artist, educator and amateur musician has been able to combine them to an unusual degree in his work as a staff member at Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
The full range of Salgado's talents will be on display when his stunning video suite, "The Planets," is presented at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago.
The sight and sound spectacle will take viewers through seven high-definition videos of our solar system with the music of Gustav Holst's orchestral suite, "The Planets," performed live by the Chicago Sinfonietta.
Each video features a planet illustrated with images ranging from contemporary photos from space agencies to illustrations from Adler's historic collection of charts and maps to Salgado's own animations.
Salgado said the 48-minute presentation is not meant to be a documentary on the planets but an artistic work designed to inspire awe and interest.
"It's basically to show them all these worlds are out there," he said.
The video images that will be shown on a 40-foot-wide screen are synchronized with the music of Gustav's orchestral piece, which was first performed during World War I. The musical composition features the seven planets known at the time with the exception of Earth. Pluto, now deemed to be a dwarf planet, was yet undiscovered.
The Millennium Park show is only the fifth time the video suite has been presented with a live orchestra.
"What you see on the screen really reinforces the music," Salgado said.
The marrying of science and art is not a first for Salgado. His interest in astronomy was inspired by a book about the first men on the moon that his father gave him when he was 9. He was soon browsing astronomy magazines.
"I just thought it was fascinating," he said. "The images were so inspiring and beautiful that I wanted to learn more."
By seventh-grade, Salgado was pursuing an interest in photography and it became another way to explore the world around him. He pointed out that space probes include cameras.
"They are a scientific instrument but they can also be an artistic instrument," he said.
Growing up, Salgado acquired a love for music as well and plays bass guitar and writes short compositions.
Astronomy, however, remained his career goal. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics at the University of Puerto Rico and a doctorate in astronomy at the University of Michigan.
He has been employed with the Adler Planetarium Astronomy Department since 2000 where he combines astronomy research with education and graphic design. His artwork, photographs and illustrations have been published in magazines and science books, and shown in San Juan, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Belgrade, Melbourne and Athens.
So when the Chicago Sinfonietta approached the Adler in 2005 about providing visual background for two performances of "The Planets" the next year, Salgado was the obvious man for the job. He spent months researching the materials to use and produced a work that was well-received in presentations in Chicago and California.
"It turned out fantastic. It's just a beautiful piece," said Geza Gyuk, director of astronomy at the Adler. ""Everyone was so pleased with it (and) we wanted to continue the relationship."
"The Planets" was produced by the Adler in partnership with Vectors & Pixels Unlimited, Salgado's own graphic arts company. Salgado then directed a second work produced by the Adler in collaboration with the Chicago Sinfonietta, "Astronomical Pictures at an Exhibition" that premiered in May.
"Astronomical Pictures" will become the basis for a 3D planetarium show that will open next year, Salgado said.
The artist/astronomer is now at work on this third classic music video suite that tells the story of two astronomers. Salgado said he plans the suite to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and the 400th anniversary of Galileo's observations through a telescope.
"The new works I'm doing are just perfect for me because they combine all my passions into one," he said.
Salgado continues his photography as well - traveling to cities around the world and juxtaposing terrestrial landscapes with astronomical vistas. Whether his images are of the heavens or locations on earth, he seeks to stir viewers' interest in places they may not know.
"The more people know about other places on Earth, the more they will respect people in other parts of the planet," he said.
And one assumes, that goes for the heavens as well.
If you go
What: Jose Selgado's video suite, "The Planets," with the Chicago Sinfonietta orchestra
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22
Where: Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago's Millennium Park