Scientists Simplifying Science

Author

Ipsa Jain

Ipsa Jain has 5 articles published.

Abhisheka the multifaceted artist and scientist

in Biodiversity and Environment by

“We have come to this world to accept it, not merely to know it. We may become powerful by knowledge, but we attain fullness by sympathy. The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence. ” Tagore, 1917

A Multipotentialite

When I met Abhisheka the first time, it was those sparks in her eyes and a very characteristic short spurts of laughter that caught my attention.  Abhisheka K Gopal is a painter, a dancer, a veena player, nature educator, wildlife rehabilitator and an ecology researcher. Yes, talk about multipotentialite, she defines it.  Today I will share her story which is mostly her journey to the foray of science communication.

Like Aarthy (link), Abhisheka studied science in pre-university. She says “I was not the brightest student and I knew back then hat marks did not add up to knowledge.”  She realized that though she loved science, especially biology, science education at the college was killing her curiosity, and eventually decided against pursuing science post pre-university. The ‘fractured’ education does seem to put off quite a few good science students in the class. The culture of memorization in our education with little stress on rational thinking drives many like Abhisheka away from pure science.

“This education of sympathy is not only systematically ignored in schools, but it is severely repressed. From our very childhood habits are formed, and knowledge is imparted in such a manner that our life is weaned away from nature and our mind and the world are set in opposition from the beginning of our days. Thus the greatest of educations for which we came prepared is neglected, and we are made to lose our world to find a bagful of information instead.” Tagore, 1917

Dabbling with creative art:

After school she joined the bachelor of fine arts course at the College of Fine Arts, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath in Bangalore. While she enjoyed art, she disapproved of the way art was taught. She found that there was no freedom to express her artistic creativity under strict syllabus of the college. That art was mostly governed by the imagination and style of the teachers at the college. Being part of the urban wildlife rehabilitation group, she was deeply concerned with the way humans upturned the balance of nature by destroying the animal and plant ecosystem. She wanted to explore the idea of “conflict between concrete civilization and green civilization”, in her canvas only to realize that the apart from a couple of teachers, the others at the fine arts college would approve only human-centric and abstract art. The act that destruction of nature by man could be captured on the canvas was incomprehensible to them. As a student, she disapproved of the emphasis on abstract art. Her view was while abstract art does satisfy the creative spirit; it fails to engage the society in a meaningful way since the common man fails to understand what is depicted in that work of art. According to her “It caters to a very small section of the society.” Realizing that her creative expression was getting choked by the academic discipline of the school she drifted away from arts as well after completing her graduation.

“We rob the child of his earth to teach him geography, of language to teach him grammar. His hunger is for the Epic, but he is supplied with Chronicles of facts and dates…Child-nature protests against such calamity with all its power of suffering, subdued at last into silence by punishment.” Tagore, 1917

Because of her interactions with the Chief Wildlife Rehabilitator Mr.Saleem Hameed at the wildlife rehabilitation center and other wildlife experts in Bangalore, she soon realized her calling in ecology, biodiversity and conservation sciences.  When she read up about Environmental art which was quite popular abroad she realized that artists in the process of creating nature-based art were destroying the natural habitat of native flora and fauna. She recollects an example of such art installation where artists covered Surrounding Islands with a pink plastic sheet for a week (http://christojeanneclaude.net/projects/surrounded-islands). Realizing that such project would have caused havoc on the biota of that island at the shores, she decided that artists working in the field should have a primary education of ecology to understand the catastrophe they were creating during their creative process.

The struggle to pursue Ecology:

It was then she decided to pursue ecology only to find that most colleges in India require strict criteria of having a minimum level of science education. She soon came to know that she was not ‘qualified’ to do a postgraduate level course in ecology. Very quickly she noticed that the strict curricular requirement does not allow one to learn what one aspires for, something that Gaurav Goyal also mentioned in his conversation with CSG (insert link).

Determined, she eventually found a distance learning course from Manipal University that allowed her to learn the concepts and science of ecology and conservation. The subject knowledge of the process in combination to her work with animal rehabilitation in urban spaces, made her realize that education is fun when it is interactive.

“Thus the greatest of educations for which we came prepared is neglected, and we are made to lose our world to find a bagful of information instead. We rob the child of his earth to teach him geography, of language to teach him grammar.” Tagore,1917

Canvassing ecology:

For her MSc project, she went to ATREE Bangalore where a senior scientist spotted her talent for field work and employed her as a researcher. There she worked on a project which involved studying water use in agriculture and its impact on bird diversity and local migration patterns. She says that she is grateful that she found a supervisor like Dr. T. Ganesh who was willing to work with her despite her lack of formal science education and “that is a rare event.” “As long as you can work in the field and think and analyze its good” was what her mentor expected. She is also grateful to her teammates in ATREE who taught her wildlife monitoring techniques and basic statistics and never once treated her indifferently.

Sketches of flora and fauna

After few years of working with ATREE she worked with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) where she studied bird migration patterns. Every winter she would spend time at the Chilka Lake in Odisha and Point Calime in Tamilnadu and in Pong Dam in Himachal Pradesh. The work involved tagging birds and learning about their migratory patterns.  While being part of these research she won scholarships to do short courses in institutes like Smithsonian school of conservation USA, Wageningen CDI, Netherlands and so on which made her realize how much she enjoyed science.

Apart from her research, she worked as an educator at ATREE. She coordinated a program where they interacted with rural as well as urban school students in an attempt to encourage them to adopt and spread sustainable practices. As part of the program, students are trained to monitor biodiversity in and around the schools eventually turning those schools “green”. She realized that being an educator can touch so many lives. During those years, she had interacted with students, few of whom now are pursuing studies in the field of ecology and environment, working with Greenpeace, conducting nature awareness programs, etc. She says “It is a gratifying feeling to be able to touch and change the lives of impressionable minds for the welfare of not just the mankind, but the whole ecosystem.”

Students sketching animals at a pond.

It was then, based on the encouragements from both her mentors Mr.Saleem and Dr.Ganesh that she started dabbling with her passion for art again for the purpose of audience engagement and science communication. “I finally began to enjoy the art.” She worked on nature illustrations that involved a lot of audiences and also used them for developing nature education material.

Though as a student she felt she may not be able to reach out to the common man with abstract art or installation art, she now wants to try her hand at using these forms of creative expression to see if  environmental awareness could be achieved amongst non-artists without sticking to just realistic art works.  Experience also has taught her not to stick to a particular style or medium but to work according to the requirement of the target audience. 

The dancer within:

After her stint at ATREE, she took a stab at the contemporary (movement based) dance forms. She was trained in Bharatnatyam since childhood. With the help of her dancer-choreographer friend Veena Basavarajiah, she realized her potential as a dancer lies in engaging her audience with a story. Being part of a dance-theatre piece titled ‘Mooki’ (means mute) that invoked questions on gender-based issues, changed her conception about the art form. She loved that experience so much that she now wants to communicate the story of diverse flora and fauna through dance. She hopes that ‘someday’ she will be able to realize her dreams.

Performing ‘mooki’

Painting the wall: Foray into science communication

While Abhisheka has led few community art projects, the one she values the most is the wall mural done for ‘Punarchith’, a collective started by social anthropologist Dr. A. R. Vasavi to work with village youth to empower them and develop sustainable agricultural practices. She painted the different millet varieties on the walls with Soliga youth an ethnic group living on the foothills of Biligiri Rangaswamy hills and Malai Mahadeshwara Hills near Mysore. The idea behind the wall mural at Punarchith was to encourage the revival of traditional millet farming in Nagavalli village and surrounding areas as the farmers there have switched over from dry agricultural practices to water intensive sugarcane and banana cultivation in the recent years. Since the region falls under the rain shadow area, it is largely a belt suitable for dry grain production and was once well-known for producing millets and pulses. However, recent trends have led to bore wells being dug in large numbers, and the extensive use of water has led to the decrease in ground water level.

During the process of painting the mural on the public wall with the help of two young boys, she realized that potential of visual art as a strong medium of science (agriculture in this case) communication to involve the society which could have a tremendous impact on the sustainable development of rural India. A lot of locals became enthusiastic about the paintings, and she started using the opportunity to talk about sustainable agriculture practices. “I hope to pursue and engage at the interface of science and arts, considering that I now understand both….it is an incredibly powerful educational tool.”

Sustainable living:

Today she lives on the outskirts of Bangalore, away from the hustle-bustle of the city. She stays in a small gated community of artists, scientists, and educators. She uses public transport for travel. She engages with local students in remote villages and exposes them to natural history, arts, and painting. She continues to experiment with science, arts and education. She firmly believes that alternative education systems allow students to learn more efficiently. Such education systems also create sensitivity about diverse issues and teach sustainable development a topic of grave importance in our world today.

While we may not be able to give up our city lives and comfort living, we can for sure adopt some practices that help save diversity and conserve the environment. I know, I will tag along next time she is painting a wall in the village or taking art workshop with school kids talking about these issues, and contribute my tiny bit.

 

Authors:

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc Bangalore, India. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

Ananda is a Technology Marketing Associate at Office of Industrial Liaison, NYU, NY, USA and is a co-founder of ClubSciWri. He loves adda (casual chat) and music.

 

Odra Noel- A Scientist by day, Artist at other times

in Sci-Pourri/That Makes Sense by

Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss had said, “Science and art ask the same questions.” Hence, it may not seem surprising that many inventors and scientists have pursued artistic pursuits alongside scientific research. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man is a reminder that art and science complement each other. It is a perfect example how the skill of illustration proves to be invaluable for exploring as well as communicating scientific ideas, even across language divides. While the approach to answering the same fundamental questions may be different, there is a common element of wonder and curiosity. While the laboratory is the temple of scientific discipline, curiosity and imagination have been at the helm of some scientific discoveries. Kekule found/discovered the structure of benzene in a dream, imagining a snake seizing its tail. A story has been popularized that a rescue operation against cannibals resulted in the invention of the sewing machine by Elias Hawke. Einstein’s wild imagination of him riding a light beam has brought humanity so far. It is therefore not surprising that some of the great scientists also dabbled with art, music, and painting. Richard Feynman played the bongo and Einstein played the violin.
But, can  passion lead to a sustainable profession? To pursue the question that intrigues me of late, I started researching on the lives of modern scientists who are juggling between their profession and passion. Not very long after I started my research, Odra Noel caught my attention. Odra, who is a trained doctor from the University of Basque and a Ph.D. from the University of London, dabbled with cell culture, dissection, intracellular organelles when she realized that her enthusiastic interest in scientific art could be combined with scientific art creation. My quest to know about her transition into the world of scientific art (a subject which is very close to my heart) I reached out to Odra to know about her work and transition. “I always knew I was an artist. I had the soul of an artist. But making a living from art is even more difficult than making a living as a scientist, for the simple reason that we need many more scientists than artists. I never left science, my main activity, and the one that pays the bills is science. I do art in my spare time and use it to balance my life. I use art to think, to understand and to communicate science” Odra said when I asked her when did she realize she wanted to be an artist. Realizing from my experience that how hard such a transition can be for someone who is trained to work in the lab, solving problems to have a deeper understanding of life for several years at a stretch, I couldn’t resist myself to ask “so how was the transition?.” “My transition was partial and seamless. I always had made art on the side, so to make it a bit more ‘official’ was not difficult” she said, adding “It takes a lot of planning and energy. Having two lives is fun, but you need to make sacrifices because there are only 24 hours in each day.” I realized for a graduate student to pursue hobby vis a vis his/her lab life one needs a supportive mentor and so I asked: “how supportive was your alma mater/PI when you made the choice of a nonacademic career?” Odra’s response was “people are generally very supportive. But you need a certain amount of evidence that you know what you are doing. Not an unplanned ‘follow’ your heart in my case.”
My short interview ended with her claiming to be a ‘nongame changer.’ Well, she is modest about her achievements, but if you look at her work, you will realize that her work efficiently communicates science in a fun and artistic way. She also sets an example for us (PhDs) to have wholesome lives where our lives are more than our research jobs.

Just a few more lines about her:
Apart from training in science (Ph.D.), she has gained training in arts and aesthetics. She mainly paints cellular processes, membrane and cellular organelles on silks. Chloroplast and mitochondria are her favorite subjects. She ensures that the colors are vibrant and catchy to an uninitiated buyer, but when someone buys her product, they take a scientific concept home. Her art cover has also featured in scientific journal covers and science art exhibitions. She juggles her life between art and science.

So that was my way of knowing someone who is a full-time scientist and an artist. It is already well past midnight, and I need to finish my next set of illustrations…..

To find out more about Odra Noel’s artwork, please visit http://odranoel.eu/gallery/. For those in London, some of her pieces will be part of the exhibition ‘Transplant and life’ at the Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons, London, from 22 November 2017 to mid march 2018.

Image is taken from Odra Noel’s Facebook page with her permission.

 

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Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She is grateful that Diptadip Dattaroy and Ananda Ghosh took the pains of editing her poor writing.

Tête-à-tête with Gaurav

in Face à Face/That Makes Sense by

Gaurav Goyal shares his educational journey from Kurukshetra to Korea and then to the U.S. He is currently working as a research scientist with a start up in U.S., where he continues to grow, learn and challenge himself.

The highlights from this conversation:
LEARN
earn anything and everything, pick up a book, go sit in a class. initially you might struggle but eventually, you will learn.
DO NOT LIMIT YOURSELF
There is no limitation to what you can learn and what you can do. Never live with a label.
To people who are finishing Ph.D.
Take inspiration, don’t be blinded by history. be open to explore, expose yourself. make use of resources available, wherever you are; and MAKE YOUR OWN CHOICE.
Image: Another brick in the wall.
Image source: http://texturify.com/stock-photo/-brick-mixed014-8435.html

in ClubSciWri/Theory of Creativity by

In this post I share the story of my struggle. I suffered from depression and was able to deal with it. I found help in my friends and family. You just have to seek help, you will find it galore. # Doobarapoocho

 

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Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

If someone else like to share their story (even if anonymously), please message to ipsajain.31@gmail.com.

Maria Sibyllia Merian, who rendered science pretty

in SciWorld/Theory of Creativity by

Maria Sibyllia Merian was an illustrator and entomologist (1647-1717). At a time when education was scant for women, she learnt miniature painting from her step father. She used this skill to depict her observations on insect metamorphosis across a variety of specimens. Her work contributed to the shift in belief from theory of spontaneous generation prevalent at the time. She travelled to the forests of Surinam where she spent six years studying insects and plants. She worked at a time, when illustrations were the only ‘photographs’ available. For financial support, she sold her work as art and published books. Linneaus later used her work to classify insects. Here are recreation of four of her plates.

maria betonien rose 1

Bentonein rose

 

maria chocolate tree

Chocolate pod

maria lime tree with butterfly

Lime tree with insect metamorphosis

maria insect of surinam

Insect metamorphosis

 

While Maria used copperplate etching for her illustrations, here Adobe illustrator software has been used to revisit those.

 

IMG_20151008_111034_1444282874501

About the illustrator: Ipsa is pursuing a Ph.D. at Indian Institute of Science. She loves to draw and paint. Biologist by training. Wants to gather and spread interestingness.

Creative Commons License
This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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