FAIRBANKS — Ina Timling and Ronald Daanen enjoy the icy moments in their marriage. Every year they take three days off of work to build a science-themed ice sculpture for the World Ice Art Championship in Fairbanks.

They describe it as a mini-vacation, but admit that creating a massive ice sculpture can be challenging, especially when they have completely different ideas of how to go about it.

“It’s really like a crash course in marriage — those three days of carving,” said Timling. “I mean you have everything from the honeymoon where you start with your grand idea. Then you encounter difficulties like when the ice block crashes on the second day in the evening and you’ve only one day left. Then you ask whether you should walk away from it all.”

For nine years the two have held their ground no matter what challenges the ice has presented. They are both scientists and have found that creating ice sculptures is a great way to meditate on their trade and communicate it to the public.

“Once you draw or sculpt something, it helps you understand it,” said Timing. “And you have something visual at the end that you can show to people.”

This year the couple tackled the water cycle using, well, the water cycle in its solid form. Their ice-carved tree, clouds and (not really) dripping faucet attached to the trunk earned the couple fifth place in the Single Block Abstract category. 

Each year, Timling and Daanen alternate the themes based on their two different disciplines, biology and hydrology, respectively. Timling earned her doctorate degree in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks studying fungi in the tundra. Daanen studies groundwater as a scientist with the Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys at the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Their sculptures have included a DNA molecule, the life cycle of a snowflake, a cell bursting with viruses, and even an egg with delicately carved sperm attached, which they called “Conceptual.” Posters always accompany the sculptures, explaining the science and highlighting fun facts. Occasionally, visitors to the Ice Park snap pictures of Timling and Daanen’s art and use it to convey their own message.

“A couple standing in front of ‘Conceptual’ had their photo taken,” Daanen said. “The woman was pregnant so they made it their announcement card.”

Daanen began carving ice sculptures in 2005, after Timling received an email sent to UAF biology students asking if anyone wanted to join a team of two artists and one scientist.

Timling was hesitant, but passed it along to her husband. “I thought he could check it out first,” she said. The following year she went to the Ice Park with him and both learned how to sculpt ice using a modest toolset of chainsaws, chisels and grinders.

They found that they enjoyed collaborating on the ephemeral art project in a place that the community gravitates to.

“Most people go there for fun, to enjoy the slides and the ice art,” said Timling. “I think it’s the ideal place to have some things that are educational.”

The couple’s 16 year-old fraternal twins are also ice sculptors and compete in the youth division, although the subjects of fantasy and social networking are more their yen. 

Timling and Daanen, who lived and met in Europe, said they will continue to teach science in a language that everyone understands. 

“In order to communicate science you must speak the people’s language,”

said Timling. “Art is an international language.”

Meghan Murphy is the public information officer and recruitment coordinator for the University of Alaska’s College of Natural Science and Mathematics.