Published: Sept. 1, 2009 By

julie peasley

Julie Peasley and the Particle Zoo

Combine artistic creativity and a love of science, add a dollop of inspiration, season with whimsy and a sense of humor and you have Julie Peasley’s (Art’91) recipe for success in crafting a geek gift teaching tool — the Particle Zoo, her collection of toy subatomic particles.

Fascinated by astronomy and physics as a teenager, she wanted to major in physics but when she visited the Boulder campus, she recalls, “the art students looked like they were having a lot more fun, wearing funny clothes and funny hair.” She opted for art instead.

As a graphic designer in California, her physics fascination continued. She studied it “on the side” until one day a crafts fair rekindled her interest in creating hands-on art.

Her inspiration? Subatomic particles.

“They gave me full creative license since no one’s ever going to see these [subatomic particles],” she says.

Julie began by personifying a simple electron as a hand-sewn plush circle with a wide grin. “I didn’t know how to sew and had to teach myself and get a sewing machine.”

Her collection includes a rainbow of quarks, leptons, nucleons and force carriers.

The newest member— a big proton that unzips to reveal three miniquarks and a gluon — illustrates beta decay.

Each handmade creation comes with an informative tag that’s been carefully fact-checked by knowledgeable physicists. She enjoys transforming scientific concepts into art to make them understandable. Her website, for instance, displays the spectrum of subatomic particles, from the zero-mass tachion to heavy dark matter.

“No bad science!” Julie says. Keeping that vow has prompted a cadre of fans among particle physicists with a sense of humor.

Last July, a staffer from Switzerland-based CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab, presented her particle toys to the Nobel physics laureates at the annual Nobel Prize-winners conference. The photos he sent are posted on her gallery at

She gets lots of requests from museums and stores, but her home-based business is not set up for large orders. Serving as “zookeeper,” seamstress, conceptualizer, mail packager, proofreader, driver, e-mailer and web designer has become a full-time job that has taken over her Los Angeles apartment, she says.

Only recently has she mastered the art of basting in zippers.

“I still can’t do clothes,” she confesses. And, although she makes more than two dozen different particles, in sewing terms “they’re just pillows.”