Scientists Simplifying Science

Author

Ipsa Jain

Ipsa Jain has 8 articles published.

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.

 

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.

 

head-shot

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

 

head-shot

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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