Scientists Simplifying Science

Author

Ipsa Jain

Ipsa Jain has 14 articles published.

Ernesto Llamas: the sketching science guy

in Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by

Sketching Science is a well-known blog amongst the scientist community. Most of the posts relate to the guy who cries after a PCR fails, and stays inside the lab irrespective of weather and time. The wit and humor packed in the sketches have supplemented the constant need for coffee. The blog has become one of the most popular amongst the scientists in a short span of just a year. The main blog does not reveal the identity of the cartoon maker or the model. The first revelation, no, the guy in the images is not the cartoonist. The Sketching Science guy is a lab colleague of Ernesto Llamas, the creator of Sketching Science. Secondly, No, I am not revealing the name of the model (perhaps some other day). On behalf of Club Sciwri, I spoke to Ernesto. Frequently, he uses two tools: the micropipette and the iPad stylus. In this post, he shares with us his beginning, his present, and his future aspirations.

I.J. How did you choose to become a scientist?

E.L.  My father is a psychiatrist and my mother a painter. So, since I was a child, I was surrounded by both science and art. My dad inspired me to go into life sciences whereas my mother was a significant influence to get into the art world. When I was about to finish high school, I heard about Genomics, and I was very keen to study it. However, back then this field was still emerging in Mexico, and only two Universities had this degree. Thus, it was tough to get admitted. I tried, but I was not accepted. Then, I decided to study Biology at the best University of my country, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Moving to Mexico City and studying Biology opened up my mind and horizons. I found my passion for molecular biology.

After becoming a Biologist, I decided to pursue a Masters in Biochemistry. During my Master’s I started working in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. It was the first time I did real experiments using a micropipette. I was very interested in chloroplast biology.

After finishing my Masters, I wanted to move out from Mexico. Science is a career that allows you to travel and meet new people, and interact with them, either via conferences or going to different laboratories. I was very motivated with the idea of studying a Ph.D. abroad. I applied to several places, was rejected by some but finally, I came to Barcelona to the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG). Nowadays, I am still working on plant biology using Arabidopsis as my model. I am in my 3rd year and planning to defend my thesis this year.  I have been able to publish some of my work from my Masters and Ph.D.

I.J. Since when have you been sketching and painting? How did Sketching Science come about?

E.L. Since I was a kid, I have been painting. In my school notebooks, there were sketches and doodles everywhere. I also took some painting lessons where I had the opportunity to learn watercolor and oil painting. Once I joined the university, I did not get much time to paint, sketch or doodling. However, during my Ph.D., I re-discovered my passion for art. I received an iPad as a gift, and I started to using it to take notes, and again, there were digital doodles and sketches everywhere. I was attending to seminars, and while taking notes, I was drawing the speaker, the images, and charts shown in the presentation.

I am a fan of social media; I used so see all the amazing blogs like AsapSCIENCE, PHD Comics, IFLScience, and others. I noticed that many others do not show much visual material about the life of scientists in a research lab. So, I decided to illustrate everyday struggles in a molecular biology lab.

In the beginning, I decided to open a Twitter account, but I did not get much response there, so I started using Instagram and then Facebook back in March 2016. It has been a year since I started and I am very thankful for the help provided by wife, lab mates and the “Sketching Science guy” that give me a hand to recreate the humoristic situations that happen daily in the lab.

Experiments do not always work correctly. Doing science can bring you frustration, but you have to keep working and fix your mistakes. You just have to make fun of your errors and keep going. For example, if your PCR did not work, you just need to laugh about it and try it again, and that is the message I want to spread with my posts.

That’s how it started, and I think it is going well because the number of Sketching Science followers are still increasing.

I.J. How did it evolve into a business?

E.L. I am just starting to transform Sketching Science into a business. It is super hard to manage a business and finish a Ph.D. Right now I am quite busy, trying to write my first author paper and my Ph.D. thesis. Some companies have contacted me to make some advertisement for them, and it is rewarding because my work is appreciated and support me to keep creating content. I am planning to make an appropriate business platform. Once I finish my Ph.D., my plan is to have a proper website with engaging images to communicate science.  I would like to have some sponsored content to create the website and keep Sketching Science’s social networks growing.

But for now, I am just focusing on finish my P.h.D. and is a lot of work. Right now, it’s just my wife and me who are doing this; she helps me with social media and with the upcoming website. To transform Sketching Science into a proper science communication platform will take some time. I will need some funds or financial aid to become a professional.

However, I am looking for post-doc positions right now. But sometimes it is hard to get one. I do want to follow an academic career. Nevertheless, if I do not get a suitable position, I will focus on Sketching Science a 100% and look for other options during the meantime.

Science communication is a relevant thing right now, so I think it’s okay to keep developing Sketching Science and follow a scientific career.

I.J. How supportive is your PI and your institute?

E.L. My PI is very supportive. He knows what I am doing. I also make a lot of cartoons for lab presentations, and I think he likes them. Right now, I am helping him create visuals for reviews and posters. We are also planning to come up with a book. Regarding CRAG, I think most of the people there know that I am the creator of Sketching Science.

I.J. Why do you think visual media is relevant in science communication?

E.L. So, a text is not very inviting. I am more a visual person. I believe that a colorful and balanced image is more exciting and inviting. For instance, when I see a post on Facebook with an attractive image, I automatically click the link attached to the picture and I read the article. Definitively, posting visual content on social networks, it’s a powerful tool to communicate science nowadays.

I.J. How has been your personal experience juggling a Ph.D. and a Facebook page?

E.L. When I started I was posting one drawing per day. Every day was tough, so now I create one once in a week. I am busy most of the week; I try to make something during nights, or in the train on my way to the Institute. Particularly, I work mostly during weekends creating stuff for Sketching Science. Designing the sketches somehow releases my stress.

I.J. What kind of feedback do you receive from your followers?

E.L. I have had some great responses for some of my posts. Some months ago, I made a post about the PCR protocol, and one follower recreated the whole set of sketches taking photos of himself. For the post “Summer is coming” another fan sent me a picture of him wearing the same lab coat, shirt, gloves, and sunglasses just like the Sketching Science guy! It is nice to see how people recreate some of my work.

Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” On behalf of the scientific community, I thanked Ernesto for bringing the much need break from the cycles of frustration.

 

About the author

Ipsa Jain is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

Dr. Neha Bhudha edited the article.

 

 

 

 

Madhushree: the Maverink girl

in Theory of Creativity by

Madhushree Kamak is perhaps one of the few in India who can address themselves as scientific illustrators. I interviewed her about her journey and the challenges she’s faced while fulfilling her aspirations.

Madhushree is trained in biological sciences at the TIFR, Mumbai. It was there itself that she started drawing and sketching science for her laboratory. Her mentor Dr. Sandhya P. Koushika encouraged her to not only delve into science but also fulfill her creative pursuits. She soon found herself drawing illustrations and generating schematics for her presentation and posters, and, with time they were appreciated. Madhushree’s lab mates recognizing her potential started making requests for their own illustrations. The news of her elegant and artistic skill spread across departments and requests for illustrations were lining up in no time. Such an exposure made Madhushree realize that active research may not be her only option forward.  She was fortunate to not only have a supportive mentor, but also that she worked with C. elegans. The C.elegans community has always encouraged the fusion of science and art. Madhushree received international exposure when she grabbed the opportunity to exhibit her illustration at the Worm art show of the 2015 C. elegans International Meeting at the UCLA. The adulation and encouragement propelled her further.

DNA by Madhushree

The time that Madhushree spent in giving out favors not only helped her realize her passion for scientific illustration, but also an increment in scientific knowledge. What struck me the most during our conversation was her unquenchable zest to learn. Although she didn’t receive any formal art training, she found a teacher in YouTube and acquired many useful skills for illustrations and animations.

Upon finishing her masters studies, she pursued a career in scientific illustration. She formed a one woman freelance scientific illustration company called MaverInk. Her own shares of challenges for sustainable work are no less. While scientists and editors do appreciate her talent, she is yet to attract enough tasks to bolster her career. It has been hard, yet she has also realized that there’s an empty niche in India, and she hopes to take it forth and build it up. Over the last few months, her networking efforts have borne fruit and she has been able to approach suitable clients hoping that it soon turns into a viable option.

Bull by Madhushree
Bull by Madhushree

Being someone who aims to pursue similar goals as Madhushree, I am compelled to express my admiration in her willingness to share ideas, and collaborate. In his book, Give and Take, Adam Grant pointed out that it is in the win of such givers that the whole community celebrates and there are no losers. As for me, I’ll forever be her cheerleader and admirer.

 

 

 

From the Right Sense to that Perfect Shot: Anand Varma from National Geographic

in That Makes Sense/Theory of Creativity by
Honey Bee Larva in Plastic well plate

“But it seems to be less obvious somehow that to create anything at all in any field, and especially anything of outstanding worth requires nonconformity or a want of satisfaction with things as they are. The creative person — the nonconformist — may be in profound disagreement with the present way of things, or he may simply wish to add his views, to render a personal account of matters.” wrote Ben Shahn.

Working on my unconventional thesis on “creative folks in science communication” I happened to bump into Anand Varma, a science photographer by profession. If you love National Geographic, you might be able to locate his featured work there. Anand Varma shared his stories from his childhood and more with SciWri.

Curiosity and spirit of adventure dominated Anand’s childhood. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia. Encouraged by his parents, he was found running into the creeks in the forest that extended beyond his backyard. His attention was captured by the leaping frogs and the trailing ants; he observed and tried to comprehend them as much as he could.

A bioluminescent mushroom from Brazilian forests.

This idea of observing the world around and exploring outdoors was, and remains, the motivation of his pursuits.

During his early teens, he was fascinated with different kinds of fish. His love for fish was so captivating that the idea of being an ‘ichthyologist’ enthralled him. Once he learned that one could be a scientist who observes fishes for a profession, it was the most obvious thing to do.

Soon after, he set out to be a biologist. One summer, he got the chance to assist and travel with a National Geographic photographer, David Liittschwager. That’s when it hit him that a photographer is as much as a scientist, exploring unknown, documenting it all through the eyes of an optical lens. Re-evaluation of his choices and aspirations led him to weigh his decision to be a science academician.  Academicians focus on a narrow question and spend a lifetime of work towards answering the same question in-depth. He realized he was someone with a short attention span and greater love for outdoors and exploration. A career in photography would allow him to stay outdoors, have fun exploring the world, meet interesting people, and understand a diverse set of problems that affect our world. He believes self-analysis and constant revaluation of interests and openness of mind and sight are the way to go forward. Anand believes that narrowing one’s goal to association with particular institute or a particular job may make one indifferent or blind to other good opportunities.

Like many who try to pursue unconventional routes, he grappled with uncertainty and fear of instability in trying to understand his choices and motivation, a process that took about four years. A creative, enriching pursuit was pitted against a comfortable certain path (a tenure track). It turned out that work kept pouringin and there was no time to take a break and reflect upon the choices. Academia became the fall back option and the walk to be a professional photographer continued.

Janthinobacterium growing in petridish.

He feels lucky to have been able to do what he is doing today, which is following his passion and making a meaningful living out of it. “It was so random,” he said, to have made a mark. While the career choice still has elements of uncertainty inherent to the nature of the job, he feels comfortable with his choice.

“Has the advice, ‘follow your passion’ held mettle or not?” I asked Anand. “While it is nice to ‘follow your passion,’ it is not a comprehensive advice,” he mused.  “One also has to find an audience for their love, find a way to connect with the audience. If one wishes to pursue their passion as a career, one has to evaluate the worthiness of their passion for an audience, however big or narrow.” He believes that your passion has to produce something that other people value.

Another thing that comes as part and parcel of this advice is that one must be prepared to live with anxiety and risk. Taking risks and plunging into an unknown experience and surviving them is how one learns to live with the fear. One does not always know what the outcome will be. On the lines of what Maria Popova said, one must regularly update their goals and choice to be on the path. That would mean walking into unchartered territories again and again and having to live with uncertainty and anxiety.

A prepared mind and open eyes are a must for one to be able to evaluate opportunities. He advised that one must not pin goals to a specific job or organization, but rather that goals should be about what one wants to do more generally. He knew that he wanted to explore nature and be outdoors, it was not his goal to work for the National Geographic. This allows one to be open to a wider range of ‘compatible’ opportunities and less dependent of the whims of a specific company or institute. The bigger picture also allows one to identify the ways to connect with an audience.

Close up of female Coppery-bellied Puffleg hummingbird.

He has now been a photographer for a decade. As someone who believes in the evolution of choices and goals, he now wants to improve his storytelling skills and collaborate with talented storytellers in other fields. He aims to find more innovative ways to answer the question, ‘how do you get people to connect with nature?’

As part of understanding what he wants to learn, he and Prasenjeet Yadav conducted a science photography workshop at NCBS, Bangalore. From the questions participants asked, he hopes to identify central ideas about, ‘how does one tell a story?’ The biggest factor, he believes, lies in understanding the audience to know what their interests are; what they already know and how what you have to share will add novelty or value to them.

If one looks at the body of work that Anand has created, novelty is certainly one of his motivations. He seems to have a signature style where he strives to create a novel and striking way to portray subjects that have been photographed previously. I asked him about his inspirations and influences in the making of what I think of as ‘the Anand Varma style’. He said, “It is a personal call most of the time. I took me a long time to make photographs that I was satisfied with.” This is a reminder of Ira Glass’s observation that great artists start with a good sense of taste, and they succeed when they figure out how to produce work that matches the standards they set for themselves.

 

'Mind controller' horse hair worm comes out of house cricket
‘Mind controller’ horse hair worm comes out of house cricket. 

Talking about influences, he mentioned two contrasting themes. His initial training was with National Geographic photographer David Liittschwager. David appreciated the power of simplicity where the subject is drawn far away from its context, and one can enjoy all the details of the subject up to the stray hair on its face. Another influence was from Japanese animation where each frame has so much visual information that it is difficult to blink one’s eyes without missing out on magnificent details.

He strives to find a balance between maintaining simplicity while cramming in visual information to hook the readers. According to him, a good image is one where you would not want to take your eyes off it. The balance between mystery and familiarity is what makes an image striking.

The wisdom he shared with me speaks to the volume of experience he has gained, despite being a relatively young artist. “A wise person is an experienced person. Practical wisdom is a craft and craftsmen are trained by having the right experiences. ‘People learn how to be brave,’ said Aristotle, ‘by doing brave things.’ So, too, with honesty, justice, loyalty, caring, listening, and counseling”, wrote Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe in their book Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. I hope to seek newer experiences actively and plunge right in. How about you?

 

About the author

Ipsa Jain is Ph.D. student at IISc. Wants to gather and spread interestingness. Prefers drawing and painting over writing. Posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

 

 

 

Walk from academia to photography: Prasenjeet Yadav

in That Makes Sense/Theory of Creativity by

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles… And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.” wrote Hunter S. Thompson in letter to his friend Hume Logan.

During his journey, Prasenjeet Yadav has shuffled his choices, from what may seem being a ‘floater’ to a ‘swimmer’.  He started out as a science student from a small city (Nagpur) who worked his way up to get a research position at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), as well as improve his linguistic skills in English. While pursuing research on Tiger genetics as a research fellow, he made the choice of leaving academia and to take up science photography professionally. In this interview he speaks to Club SciWri about his story.

I.J. When and how did you fall in love with science?

P.Y. I was always curious about the world around me and it was the result of my curiosity that made me start caring about science and nature. I grew up in Central India, on my father’s farm near Nagpur surrounded by jungle. ‘How?s’ bothered me as much as ‘what?s’ did. I wanted to understand the behavior of animals, stripes of tigers, color of the snakes, and calls of the birds I would see around me. The folk tales I heard while growing up were laced with wild jungle characters and I would wonder why they behave the way they do.  I often got anecdotal responses from the elders in the village, which did not sound reasonable even then.Science was the lens through which the behaviors made sense. Back in school it was the only subject I studied for,and managed to pass (laughs).

Farm in Nagpur where Prasenjeet grew up

I.J. When was your first brush with the camera?

P.Y. (long story) I was the guy in the school class who did not care about cricket, not a very common place thing among children of my generation in India. I was met with jibes and taunts when I would abruptly talk about the leopard I saw.  I knew then pictures would be the proof of my experiences. I anyways liked the idea of taking a moment from time and give it to infinity. It was profound, so fascinating. My father had some interest in photography. He gifted me a ‘hot shot camera’. It had one roll, one view finder, a lens and you click. I actually had to earn the roll and the allowance to develop by cleaning my dad’s vehicles every morning at 6 AM. I spent my time looking at the world through the viewfinder of that hot shot camera trying to get that one perfect shot. Things changed when I bought my first SLR camera, after coming to Bangalore. After setting up thousands of PCR reactions, I would spend my evening capturing ants and frogs and snakes at the herbarium in the campus.

Praying Mantis

I.J. When did you decide to make the call of going over to photography completely?

P.Y. It was during the time, a year almost, that I spent at the herbarium that made me realize my interest and potential in photography. Honestly, I knew I wasn’t an academic genius, but I was hard-working. I felt that despite getting my work published in decent journals,I was not sure if that is what I wanted to do any longer. However, during my time as a researcher, I spent a lot of my time talking to my engineer friends who only perceived me as a tiger poop collector. I took some efforts to explain them my research, and I realized I enjoy communicating science. It keeps my curiosity alive. During the process of my research, at some point it went into too many details where I felt my curiosity slipping away. While I understand the importance of intricate details in research, I do not feel that I could do this for long.

Steam glory on a leaf

I.J. You often say, “I am made of my failures”. What are the failures you refer to?

P.Y. I think what you define and perceive as a failure really depends on your perspective. At a time, flunking in chemistry exam was a failure. Looking back at it now, it’s just plain hilarious. There was a time in my academic career that I started feeling that I was not satisfied enough. I was failing my own expectations for a good academic career. I realized I was not doing well and there seemed no point in continuing this. I was in a matrix- of science, conservation, and photography and science communication. I was standing at one end and hoping all of it funnels towards me. Well, that was not happening and I felt, I was failing.  I realized I should just change my position in this matrix. Looking back, it was not a very conscious decision, but rather I followed my intuition. I believed if I do what I like; things will eventually fall into place. What was once my ‘failure’, is now my strength. I understand better the science of the subjects that I photograph. I understand the jargons in the community and can make sense of things. The ‘failures’ have set a foundation for leaps in my current choice of career.

I.J. How did people perceive after you ‘quit’?

P.Y. After I quit, I called up my mother who is quite cool, and told her about my decision. She said, ‘Okay, padh-likhleta to acha lagta’ (roughly translates to: Okay, if you had gone on to study, it would have felt better). But gratefully, my parents did not object to my choice. I guess my financial independence also helped. However, I felt like a failure because I quit my research within three years while others had put three decades into their research. I couldn’t help myself out of this. And I feel my own opinions about myself were being reflected in people’s perception of me. And I took their perception seriously; it was a reality check for me to evaluate my situation better.

I.J. What have you been upto since you ‘quit’?

P.Y. I like to observe and observe and observe. I like to identify processes, look for some patterns and tell a story. That’s how I got into science in the first place, seeking a good medium to look for meaningful patterns. I have been experimenting with the camera. I got my first gig by chance. Me and my friend, we were dog-sitting for an NCBS professor while he was away. During that time, a BBC filmmaker KalyanVarma landed up at the house looking for the professor. Instead, they ended up talking to me. They were planning to make a movie on monsoon. I suggested the story of migration by nomadic Dhangars tribe and their relationship with pack of wolves that follow them. Filmmakers got excited by the idea and later I ended up working with them for six months in Central India for the story. After that, I documented a project for NCBS, Govt. of Sikkim and Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment that was funded by Department of Biotechnology. I went to Sikkim and documented the work Sikkim students were doing across various fields on diversity and ecosystem of the state. I developed it into a photo story that was appreciated by funding agencies and the researchers alike. After that, a lot of people who in my perception, thought of me as a failure came around and appreciated my work. It felt nice and made me realize that the work like this has a lot of value.

A sikkim researcher measuring forest cover

Slowly one thing led to another, and I published with many major magazines and newspaper house In India. I realized that the stories I did were not just specific to Indian audience and had international value. They were stories on conservation, climate change, sustainable energy etc. Then I looked for opportunities and found National Geographic Young Explorer grant. I applied for it and actually got it. That is the time when I felt, did National Geographic just approve of what I have been doing! Since then I have worked on various projects with them. They have helped my growth tremendously by sending me to photojournalism workshops, recommending me for several international film and photo festivals etc. I call myself freelance photographer but in last three years, I have freelanced only with National Geographic (chuckles).

Frog mating

I.J. What is your opinion of a good photograph?

P.Y. I believe that a good photographer is not the one who takes a good picture of snow leopard. Snow leopard is exquisite; any picture of it will be worth. A good photographer is someone who can make stunning, novel and an interesting picture of the most common subjects such as ants. It’s the story and perspective that matters more than the equipment.

Scorpion (clicked under UV light)

In conclusion, I would quote Hunter again, “I’m not trying to send you out ’on the road’ in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life.”

About the Author

Ipsa Jain is Ph.D. student at IISc. Wants to gather and spread interestingness. Prefers drawing and painting over writing. Posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

Pooja: When a film maker becomes a science communicator

in Biodiversity and Environment/Uncategorized by

I have wondered if there is psychological factor driving one to work hard towards making their aspirations come true. Our society is mainly fuelled by the notion of success and growth.

Pooja started painting while she was in third grade. Her passion for painting and sketching continued every summer. She obtained her formal education in fine arts. She always felt that studying fine arts in school robbed the real art space. Nevertheless, by the time she graduated from high school, Pooja Gupta was a water-color queen (and revered for the same in her undergraduate).

Maria Papova, thinker of the modern times has taught that one should be always allowed to change their mind. I have been fortunate interacting with such people. Pooja also switched from commerce to film making. At present she is working on wildlife conservation and related projects, she made a remarkable insight, while paintings invites attention and appreciation, film making captures the real emotion thereby enabling a direct call to action. Unlike painting, film making invites participation towards a solution.

Pencil work by Pooja

The end product of her degree was a film on caged birds that questioned the concept of captivating birds and animals. This work provided positive reinforcement and she extended her niche covering nature and animals. Through extensive networking, she got the opportunity to make a movie on mangrove trees in Andaman Island after tsunami.

She has gone back to science with love for it than she ever had at school. Her story is yet another reminder to the society questioning how education ruins curiosity. Fortunately, she found her way back. She is instilling the same interest in young kids by organizing educational field tours. Traditional school is not for everyone, she observes. This resonates with sentiments expressed by Abhisheka. Hence this effort made by her in the direction of alternative education will hopefully bring a new of generation of truly learned individuals.

She believes Art is a practice and not an exam. She is on a mission to use art of film making for science. She works towards the goals of creating awareness, spreading education, inciting appreciation (for nature), and satisfying curiosity. I sincerely hope that her work spirals a butterfly effect that culminates in rescuing an ecosystem from destruction.

Digital work by Pooja

Her story, along with several others is a reminder for me that, certainly amongst us, will find our way to do things that we really want despite having been fed to the education factory.

The destruction in natural resources and environment are often justified by causes of growth and development. People like Pooja might train a new, more sensible generation, which understands the value of preservation in development of society and economy.

Here is the link a team initiative she is involved in: https://http://www.facebook.com/earthcolab/

 

About the Author:

Ipsa Jain is Ph.D. student at IISc. Wants to gather and spread interestingness. Prefers drawing and painting over writing. Posts on Facebook and Instagram as Ipsawonders.

 

 

 

Arjun Srivathsa: scientist and communicator and cartoonist

in Biodiversity and Environment/Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by

The daily ritual of pipetting cells and solutions made me realize that I’ve been oblivious and was living in a different world. On my journey to becoming a science illustrator, I was under the impression that there were a mere handful of them in the world. As I progressively talked to people, I realized it was only my ignorance. While I try to make my footing as an illustrator, it’s my privilege to showcase my fellow illustrators. Although some of them are exclusive and have a defined niche, I aim to reveal their stories and journeys for more people to learn. I sometimes wonder if I am the child of Horace Slughorn. Like Horace, I see myself at the center of a web where each thread connects an artist. While Horace exploited his network for pineapple candies and free tickets, I am going to use this web to bring out motivating stories for as long as I am able to spin more threads. I had the pleasure to meet Arjun Srivathsa, a wildlife artist and cartoonist. He dons the hats of a wildlife researcher, conservation scientist, and an artist. Following is our conversation:

I.J.  How/when did you make the choice to be a biologist and that too a wildlife researcher?

​A.S. Ever since I can remember. I profoundly loved animals as a child- as most children do, I guess. Starting with high school and all the way through college, our teachers or professors would ask us to introduce ourselves to the class. My stereotypical answer to that was I wanted to become a ‘zoologist’; I didn’t know that wildlife biology was a separate field of study. Following an undergraduate course in life sciences (with Chemistry, Botany, and Zoology as the core subjects), I pursued a M.Sc. in Wildlife Biology and Conservation. A Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Ecology has been somewhat of a natural progression.   

Wildlife tourists By Arjun
Wildlife tourists By Arjun

I.J. When did you realize your passion to be an artist? Was it during your M.Sc.?

​A.S. I have been an artist all my life, although I didn’t learn it professionally. It started out as a hobby that I continued to pursue. I would doodle on all my school notebooks- animals, cartoons, caricatures of my teachers and what not. During my undergraduate years, I spent quite some time on my art. That’s when I experimented with oils for the first time. It continues to remain my favorite medium. But now, I don’t get a lot of time to draw on canvas. So, I’ve switched to digital art. Although I don’t enjoy it much, it’s much faster.

I.J.  What’s your inspiration for art? What are your favorite subjects/style?

​A.S. Most (almost all) of my artworks are inspired by nature and wildlife. I enjoy working with oils on canvas, acrylics, color pencils, etching/stippling and cartooning. It’s been 4  years since I dwelled into digital art. I found it useful for making cartoons (although not as gratifying as traditional media). It also became a very handy tool for combining art and science to create my “science-toons”. I now use these science-toons for science communication and conservation awareness. 

I.J. How has the response been to your art from the scientific and non-scientific audience?

A.S.Art in Science or #SciArt – as it’s known on social media – is a very powerful tool for science communication. A lot of scientists lack the skill of science communication. It is often difficult to let go of statistical jargon and esoteric nuances of our fields and “dumb-down” science for non-scientists. Art bridges that gap in a very effective and innovative way. I also received positive feedback from scientists regarding my work. And the main reason I started communicating science via art was that someone who’s not remotely connected to academics can learn and appreciate the work of Indian wildlife scientists and conservationists. While it is difficult to accurately measure my artistic impact, I think it’s certainly not negligible. My cartoons have been used for fund-raising, creating awareness, sustainable harvest of marine fish, education of school children in distant villages etc.  

King Cobra by Arjun
King Cobra by Arjun

I.J. Is art only a hobby or do you also freelance?

​A.S.  Both. I use art to de-stress from the relatively exhausting academic life. I publish a lot on social media. But, I also freelance when people or organizations approach me with projects. I strongly believe in an endeavor involving goodwill and creative freedom. So, most of my work (if not commissioned) are free for anyone to use as long as their purpose is to create awareness on wildlife conservation or nature education.

I.J. How supportive have your PIs/teachers been when you engage in art as an expression?

​A.S. It’s a bit difficult to answer this question. My PIs/mentors have never hindered my endeavors. Sadly, in our institutionalized academic scenario, science communication or nature education etc. generally do not count as units of success or achievement. It is yet to qualify in the league of conference presentations or journal publications. So, while my mentors have always been supportive, there are no mechanisms (that I know of) where this can be formalized and be given more credence. 

I.J.  Are there any stories/anecdotes that you would like to share?

​A.S. I was giving a talk at a climate change-themed event a couple of years ago, and I used some of my artwork from the science-toon series to elaborate about the sea food crisis and crash in marine fish stocks. I have learnt from my experience that it’s not easy to convince people to change their food preferences. But at the end of my talk, one person raised his hand, thanked me for the information, and pledged to give up sea food. I used 9-10 cartoon panels to convey the scientific information published in some top-notch journals. Although I’m not sure whether those papers made an impact or not, I was glad that the medium I chose was powerful enough to change at least one person’s attitude. I wish more scientists engaged in science communication. They don’t have to do it themselves, but liaising with communicators, artists, and educators can make science accessible to the common man.

Elephant Iworry by Arjun
Elephant Iworry by Arjun

Proust had once said that habits ruined lives. “A blanket or a shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work, and our friends.” He believed it’s the artists who can “strip away this habit and return life to its deserved glory.” While my ignorance about science-artists has been rectified, my appreciation for their work continues to grow. I hope their cumulative work will shine more light in the daily lives of scientists and pave a way for an elegant expression of science.

 

About the author:

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

 

Rohan: Wildlife ‘cartoonizer’

in Biodiversity and Environment by

I am yet to meet someone who decided to be an artist early on and work their way up. I wonder if as a society we don’t allow the young to make that decision. While we root for them if they want to be doctors and pilots and engineers, we don’t encourage careers in humanities and arts. I remember a perceived notion in India is that the students who scored “low” took up humanities and were treated as low rung, and pursuing science was most prestigious. The creamy layer went on to do science. Unfortunately, this mindset has washed away generations of talented students to pursue what they love to do and find a niche for them. However, today’s India is perhaps the right place to pursue those unchartered career paths. The guy I spoke to recently, as a part of my thesis on alternative career (This time I am my own guide and my own university) was a part of the famed and celebrated creamy layer.

Rohan Chakravarty since, childhood wanted to become a playback singer but soon realized that it’s not going to happen (it may have been his voice!). He went on the ‘good Indian kid path’ and joined the medical school to be a dentist. It was there that he met with frustration and lack of contentment. And being witty, as he is, he started cartooning as a way to express his dissent from boredom and routine subjects. Boredom and frustration can be the cradles for imagination and play. We have seen this in others stories that we shared as well (link).

Running away from dentistry took him to unchartered routes. He learned animation skills and took up a job of an animator. At some point, he made a courageous move of taking up cartooning as a full-time venture. The first cartoon he ever published was that on Fardeen Khan (Bollywood actor) and his drug abuse way back in 2001. By his admittance, that piece was not something he is very proud of. His confession not only speaks of his humility but also reminded me of something Ira Glass pointed out. Ira said, “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”.

A real artist keeps making more and more work until the ‘gap’ is narrowed down, something Rohan has achieved.

Wildlife and women have been the subject of his attention and his cartoons for a long time. When he started his cartooning, Rohan to form niche of his own, in which he still resides. He said, ‘creative satisfaction obtained from drawing wildlife is beyond measure.’

Superb lyrebird by Rohan
Superb lyrebird by Rohan

In this world with growing intolerance, Rohan has had his share of the hatred pie. From a right wing group (not to be named!), he received flak for a cartoon that encouraged people to reject firecrackers on Diwali. Authoritarian critics, in their criticism, without their knowledge, make the art come alive. Such projects keep Rohan excited and alive, inspire some of us and educate most of us.

One of his recent projects was an illustrated map of wildlife in Bhutan (http://www.wwfbhutan.org.bt/downloads/). He narrated his experience in a few sentences, “Having moved to Delhi from Nagpur (one of India’s greenest cities) and failing to acclimatize with Delhi’s air miserably, I was desperate for some lung therapy. Fortunately, a collaboration with WWF Bhutan was struck, which made way for the most peaceful week of my life, in Cloud Kingdom. My ‘Wildlife Map of India’ had met with a great response from both the media and print collectors in India and abroad, and Bhutan was always a dream destination both to travel to and draw, so I proposed the concept of a wildlife map to WWF Bhutan, which they instantly accepted. My trip spanned 7 days, in which I visited Jigme Dorji National Park, the fields of Punakha, The Royal Botanical Gardens at Lampelri (where I saw my first Brown Parrotbills and Large-eared Pikas!), trekked along the Punatsang Chhu in search of the critically endangered White-bellied Heron (the search ended successfully!), interacted with and fed captive Takins (Bhutan’s national animal) and Serows at the Takin Rescue Centre in Thimphu, and finally went birding in Paro, where we saw Blood Pheasants and Himalayan Monals at Chele La, Bhutan’s highest motorable pass. Wildlife aside, the trip was memorable for several other reasons- witnessing a warm and hospitable culture, hanging out with some of the most affable folks I have met, hogging on Ema Datsi and outstanding pork momos, and having three lovely Bhutanese women wrap a Gho around me! When flew back from Paro to Delhi, statistically from the world’s cleanest to the world’s dirtiest air, it felt like an oxygen mask was being pulled out of my face!”.

Recently on CSG, there was a discussion on how scientific illustrators are poorly paid in India. Rohan mentioned that while scientists always pay him his fair due, it is the administrative agencies who find it difficult to pay up. His words are reassuring for the some of us who do want to be professional scientific artists and illustrators.

His journey is a reminder that we need not only doctors, engineers and scientists; we also need artists and educators. Hopefully, our generation will encourage the young to be more open to such choices while growing up.

Oh! and by the way, he is apparently, not that bad a singer (https://soundcloud.com/rohanchak).

Clean India by Rohan
Clean India by Rohan

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

Gaurav Mittal brings technology to deprived

in Entrepreneurship/That Makes Sense by

Gaurav Mittal is an innovator, entrepreneur, hacker and in some ways a social worker determined to impact the lives of millions of visually challenged people. His latest work on a device called EyeD is already creating a measurable impact on almost 5000 users and counting many more with each passing day. The journey from an engineer to innovator is very interesting as well as inspiring and sharing this with CSG community is a pleasure.

He belongs to a small town in UP named Anpara. His father being an electrical engineer realized the importance of technology and obtained a computer with Windows3.0 installed in his office. Gaurav immediately took liking to the concept of computers and it became his passionate interest. However, he got his PC or ‘personal computer’ a desktop computer with Windows 95 after 3 years of persuasion.  Soon, he immersed himself in the world of computers and found a destination for his passion at IIT BHU. While at IIT, he developed and honed the skills of hacking and aspired to be a professional hacker. His dream got fulfilled very soon with an assignment as hacker at CITRIX technology. He thoroughly enjoyed the job of hacking the codes written by software developers and providing insights for securing and strengthening the software.  This experience enabled him to participate and win many innovation competitions while the ‘intrapreneurial’ environment of the organization helped in understanding the process of shaping an idea into a product. He was allowed a sabbatical of 3 months to work on such ideas and feels very fortunate to get that experience while working. These experiences positively sowed the spirit of entrepreneurship in him and the thought process.

A visit to the National Association for Blind (NABD) Bangalore in 2012 marks a turning point in Gaurav’s entrepreneurial journey. There he learnt the blind way of life (literally speaking) through experience for example, he was blindfolded and asked to go to main gate and come back to the room inside. He instantly recognized the fact that seemingly trivial tasks for people with vision translated into big challenges for the visually impaired. What impressed him most was the determined attitude of blind individuals in overcoming these challenges. His interactions with the NABD associates made him realize that some of them were extremely bright and could write software codes as well.  He could appreciate the challenges these students faced and how they could succeed in overcoming those to create something as complex as software codes.

During his visit to the association, there was another incident that set him up on the current journey. A senior official from a reputed company, who had lost his vision at an age of 30 years entered the room and greeted everyone but received no response from the 15 odd people present there. Everyone had an awkward feeling of confusion but patiently, he greeted once again. This time everyone responded and upon hearing the response, he turned himself to the crowd and faced them. During the first greeting, he was facing the audience backwards creating a slight awkward moment which got resolved subsequently. This particular incident left Gaurav pondering on the engineering solutions that could help visually challenged people feel the presence of people they are interacting with or their surroundings.

He turned these thoughts into a hobby project and created seven prototypes for seven different problems, including a glove with a camera and so on.  But he was shocked at the response received during the demonstration of these prototypes at NABD. His target audience rejected his prototypes as they did not address the ‘real’ challenges from a visual impaired perspective. He learnt an important lesson in innovation that day: always understand the needs of the target audience. He shares this piece of wisdom with all the budding entrepreneurs that to arrive at a solution with wide acceptance, it is important to communicate with the target and approach the problem with real world insights rather than embarking upon an intellectual pursuit. He now interacts very frequently with the staff and students at NABD to assess and understand their needs that require a solution and then designs the technology around those needs. He is motivated to come up with technologically superior solutions for the visually impaired life every time he interacts with his audience.  During one such interaction, he was asked a very interesting question on whether he can develop a technology that will enable identification of colors. The person had never seen colors but read about them in books and shared that he is dependent on family and friends to achieve even small tasks such as wearing color coordinated dresses and wishes to make these decisions independently without help. He understood that the most pertinent applications of technology in the visually impaired world are towards creating a self-reliant world where basic life activities can be conducted and enjoyed without help from others.

He decided to quit his job and make the hobby project into a professional goal that he is truly passionate about. He now works with a team of three to develop an app based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for visually challenged that helps them identify objects in their surroundings, colors of these objects, find nearest hospital, store, read printed text on labels  and documents (which is free at this point of time). A blind person walking on Indian roads might not realize they are going to step into a puddle but with this app, they can. They currently support 5000 plus monthly users and their goal is scaling up to a million users in the next 5 years.

App interface

The astounding response from the users who could read the label on aspirin bottle at night without anyone else’s help and could sleep well, add red bell pepper in their food as opposed to a green bell pepper and many other stories of self-reliance keeps them pacing towards the goal and motivated against all technological odds. To keep this communication alive, the users of the app can interact with the developers directly via SMS/call/live chat that is a distinguishing feature and a direct translation of the first lesson in innovation learnt by Gaurav.

Their interest in transforming the visually impaired life does not end with an app but continues with  designing more products and solutions such as an adaptable keypad that can be pasted to the keypad of smart phones and uses audio feedback for typing.This improvised device and app together allow usage of Whats App, Email and SMS by visually impaired. They are hoping to launch this product soon and recognized nationally by Government agencies to win an award called ‘best innovators of 2016’.

Eye-D keypad on a smart phone

We hope that their story encourages some more people to come forward and innovate for challenged sections of society. Gaurav says that there are millions of problems waiting to be solved. You, my reader, pick one and solve one. If not, fail at one?

 

About the Author

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She posts her work on Facebook as Ipsawonders.

Edited by Dr. Satya Lakshmi

 

 

Ina: artist who uses water to communicate science

in Face à Face/Theory of Creativity by
We are 90% microbial
Cellular processes in water color by Ina Schuppe Koistinen.

Since the time I started working with Sciwri, my interest has been to meet and chat with people who work at the interface of art and science. It has been an enriching experience for me to learn how other scientists/artists think. Trained as a scientist, we are accustomed to drawings and writings all the time, be it our lab notebooks, chalk talks, lab meetings, departmental seminars, etc. using every possible ways to explain our science to peers, mentors, reviewers or philanthropists and other funding agents. Some however break the boundaries of their training and manage to express themselves and their science through their art. Ina Schuppe Koistinen is one such artist.

Ina’s passion for science, biology and chemistry in particular stemmed from the classroom taught by her favorite school teacher. She is now a Associate Professor in Molecular Toxicology at Karolinska Institutet and works at the Science for Life Laboratory.

As a scientist, she feels that science is often unapproachable for commoners. People perceive us as a breed of nerds in white coats and instruments in lab and choosing not to talk about it. While that she proclaims is true, it does not give a complete picture. Science is not boring as often perceived. She has taken it upon herself to tell the world that science is pretty engaging and scientists are just not ‘labrats’ but extremely dynamic. And what can be more interesting than beautiful images where one color bleeds into the other and imagination takes its shape in the form of lines and curves and eventually comes together to build a scientific phenomena or a concept.

She had always toyed with colors and brushes. But during Ph.D. is when she really found her expression.  While gazing through the microscope for most of her graduate studies she would look at colored stained neurons on a dark background. The patters she saw inspired her and she felt the urge to share them. She rediscovered the colors and brush as a medium to express herself. The nerves and neuronal network became the subjects of her scientific and artistic inquiry.

It was too irresistible a force and since then she has been involved on various projects dealing with science and arts. As a scientist she would be looking at patterns all day and now how she looks at her life through that same glass as well. She believes there is no such thing as a part time artist. It is not about the hours one spends in the studio, it is about how much, energy, observation, preparation goes into making that “art”. The creative process is something that is with you 24X7. She often works on a subject and a medium for six months or more and once the project is done she is on the lookout for her next inspiration. She has developed her skills in watercolour painting at different art schools in Sweden. She explores different medium and different subjects. Her subjects are often inspired by her work, her fantasies and her surroundings. Microscopy is what inspires her the most. “The hidden intricacies of cells and tissue, a completely different world which deals with microns keeps me inspired”, Ina smiled.

Cellular processes visualized in water colors  by Ina Schuppe Koistinen.

When asked why did she chose visual arts, she had the most simple yet a profound response, “because, I like it”. Also as a yoga teacher, she believes in wholesomeness of life. The day job of science was not liberating her enough and she needed to do more. Almost all the multipotentialites I met during this journey of interviewing for Sciwri, this remains a common theme, the urge to do more, do something creative and useful. She made poignant observation that as scientists, we live in tomorrow. Today you plan an experiment, tomorrow you set it up. Today you set it up, you make observations in future. In future, based on the result, you decide further experiments and hypothesis. Gratification in scientific process is delayed. The moment in present is often lost. She fills up that space through the medium of art. Ina says “Art to me is like meditation; both allows you to explore within and focus at the same time.”

Contribution to science not only comes from scientists at the bench, it also comes from communicators, and educators of science. With her art shows and exhibits, she manages to engage society and continues to make science ‘cooler’ for everyone. She believes if one student gets inspired to do science after looking at her work, she would have accomplished something. During her exhibitions she has varied response from both scientists and laymen. Artists tend to appreciate the colors, patterns, the technique. Some compare the cells and process to cosmic events like big bang and other physical process. Audiences with a bit of biology training do tend to find the meaning and concept in the work. Her work ignites many wonderful conversations.

As scientists, we are trained to observe and analyze. For many the creativity and imagination is often lost in the process. Ina experienced something very similar when she had an exhibit of series of paintings on tissues and cells as viewed through microscopes. To her surprise many pathologists were unable to look beyond what they were used to looking under the microscope and were disappointed by the fact that the paintings do not show the real shapes!

Ada Lovlace, co founder of first computer with Charles Babbage, said, ‘Imagination is the Discovering Faculty, pre-eminently. It is that which penetrates into the unseen worlds around us, the worlds of Science. It is that which feels & discovers what is, the real which we see not, which exists not for our senses. Those who have learned to walk on the threshold of the unknown worlds, by means of what are commonly termed par excellence the exact sciences, may then with the fair white wings of Imagination hope to soar further into the unexplored amidst which we live.’

Ina’s portrait by the author

Talking to Ina has reiterated the importance of wholesome creative life to me. Hope you learn something from her as well. Next time when I paint blobs of colors, Ina’s philosophy will guide me.

Find more about Ina’s work on her website: http://www.inasakvareller.se/

Cover Image: We are 90% microbial  by Ina Schuppe Koistinen.

About the author

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

 

 

 

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.

 

Go to Top
%d bloggers like this: