In Conversation: Olle Bergman

For the final installment of In Conversation, I sat down with science communicator and my long-time mentor Olle Bergman – Swedish freelance writer and communication trainer. I met Olle at a TEDx conference in early 2018 and after a brief conversation about blogging and communicating science for the public, he took me under his wing, inviting me to join the team around Crastina – a networking platform for science people interested in communication. 

Olle is one of the most enlightening people I’ve known, literally and figuratively. Every time you have a call with Olle, it unintentionally spirals into a meandering conversation and you come out of it having learnt something new about human psychology, communication or Swedish culture. The world, as Olle sees it, is very colourful and as I searched for one last person to feature in this series, I thought, “why not someone as friendly and reflecting as Olle?”.

In this interview, we chatted about how Olle became the science communicator he is today, how he tries to never be boring, his upcoming book projects (very exciting!), and almost everything in between. Fun Fact: while we were on this call, Olle was taking a long walk in the forest areas surrounding his small town in Sweden, and occasionally, greeting anyone he crossed paths with.

How did you become the science communicator that you are today? How were you inspired to inspire others to get their ideas across? 

This question takes us back to the 80s, when I was a young boy studying science in high school. Both my parents were doctors. It was obvious to me that science was cool and interesting and useful and important, and it was also obvious to me to go down this path. However, I also became increasingly interested in literature, and I found my teacher, Helmer Lång, very inspiring. He was strikingly committed to his subject, and he made the entire class see the beauty and greatness of literature. That was when I first started writing and I began with poetry. In retrospect, this early writing was very immature. But that changed after my military service – I truly grew wiser during that one year of conscription. Isn’t it interesting how your personality settles down when you’re in your mid-twenties? 

Anyway, I was this young man who loved writing and who loved science and I decided that I wanted to be a bridge builder. On one hand, I thought about studying medicine, but on the other hand I wanted to be someone who explained the sciences so I chose to study chemistry at the Faculty of Engineering, Lund University. I felt (and still feel) like chemistry lay perfectly in between biology and physics. 

After I graduated, I was drafted into a lab – it’s a whole other story we would need to frame – but I spent three years as a research assistant and even became a Ph.D. student. And that’s when I burnt out. So, instead of doing communications after my Ph.D., I took a shortcut to a communication career. My first position was as an assistant medical editor at the Swedish National Encyclopaedia and I haven’t looked back since. I eventually joined a medicine tech company – first as an international education coordinator and later as a tech and PR writer at corporate communications.  

The only formal communication training I have had was an evening course in journalism at Lund University – otherwise, it’s always been a learn-as-you-go thing. 

You’ve mentioned [on your website] that one of the universal principles to use to make communication more effective is to “never be boring!”. How do you make sure you’re never boring or what you’re teaching is never boring?

In all my years as a chemist, as a writer and a communicator, I have noticed that there is a lack of a good definition of what the word “interesting” actually means. It often ends up in a circular definition! But what actually makes people turn their attention to something? Well, if there is no connection to their prior knowledge, the stuff you present will never hook them. This means that you too must have knowledge of something before you can muster any interest in it.

I have a technique that can probably be described like this: when I approach something, I look for similarities with other things. Can I compare it to something that people already know? It is important to develop analogies and metaphors. The use of metaphors goes far beyond culture – I believe this is how the brain works: we all see the world in patterns, we look for one thing in other things. It can also be very effective to demonstrate a contrast between the high and the low.

I also think to be interesting you have to have courage, you know? If you are too afraid of taking risks, no one will remember you. It’s like Monte Carlo – higher risks, higher gain. You can use stand-up comedy as an example – the higher risks you take while making jokes, the bigger the success if you succeed, but also the higher the fall if you fail. But you need that courage – you have to want to take the risks. 

As a writer, a scientist and a science communicator, do you believe that your work lies where science and art meet? What is your experience working at the cusp of art and science? 

I will illustrate my answer with an example. In a workshop I was conducting a few weeks ago, there were twelve chemistry Ph.D. students and some of them were working with nano-structures. One of them was studying something called a “tactoid”. And the most incredible thing was that she realised how catchy the concept of “tactoid” sounds, and that there definitely is something artistic about the cool images her research produces. It is really nice to see a generation that doesn’t set up boundaries between science and art – they already know the two fields are inseparable!

Science and art on their own are always limited, but when we combine them, we have a more powerful framework of understanding the world around us – and then we are finally getting somewhere!  With a scientific approach to art and vice versa, we can reach new territories. There is a lot to explore, to understand, to feel and to work with: this represents my thoughts about the power of connecting science and art. 

You’ve been writing a book! What is it about? 

Actually, I have three book projects going on at the moment – one communication handbook, one popular history book about The Frontier culture in USA during the 19th century, and finally the one I think you are referring to: a poetry book called Pectoris or the infinite sadness of the alienated engineer. It started writing itself in the 90’s while I was working in an industrial setting … my first sketches in Swedish are made sometime around then. It is almost a 30 year book project! 

Do you have a publishing date for it? 

I don’t know yet, to be honest. I am very happy that the manuscript exists, but I am in no hurry to finish the book project. I could put it into the hands of a publishing company, but I think I prefer to publish it myself. DIY publishing is very easy these days, it gives you better control and you can keep more of the earnings (if there are any!). 

In the process of writing this book, how has your artistic perception collided with your scientific expertise?

A med tech company is where science is being applied for the good of mankind. I had a practical help from my scientific knowledge. I wanted to write about my old company but move it away from nephrology and renal care. I wanted to be more natural about it, so, I shifted to a more poetic outlook; I tried to not directly refer to the scientific things such as a dialysis machine and blood, but only give shards of information. 

You specialise in “medical, technical and scientific writing aimed at a popular audience”. What, in your opinion and experience, is the most important thing to remember when writing about science for the public?

My first recommendation would be to learn the craft [of writing] and not cheat; you need to be a good craftsman to make a difference! Make sure to connect to the reader and that what you’re writing is relevant to the reader at all. Of course, you should use stylistic writing tools, but you should never overuse them. Never let fancy writing come between yourself and what you want to say. A lot of the time, plain English and will be more than enough. Finally, at the end of the writing process, you should read the text and think about its relevance in 10 years’ time. Will it age with dignity, or have you jumped the bandwagon, using themes, angles and expressions which are trendy at the moment?

What would your words of advice to an aspiring science communicator be? 

Make sure you understand what you are writing about and that your personal understanding of the subject is complete. If your explanations are vague or poorly structured, you probably need to study your subject in more detail. 

I also have a special technique: I make sure my interviews are more like conversations than interrogations. First of all, this will help the interviewee loosening up and making them forget that they are in an interview. Secondly, an interesting, two-way conversation where you add your own reflections and analyses will inspire them to be more creative. You, Ushashi, should never be afraid to do that!

Finally, Olle about himself:

I guess I am a person who plays many roles: I am the father of five, a small-business man, a non-fiction and fiction author, a regular sportsperson et cetera. I am very proud of my family’s lifestyle, which is small town life rather than urban life. My wife Lotten (who is also a writer) and I made the best decision 20 years ago when we settled in Eskilstuna. In a small town, you are not distracted by a lot of things going on around you. This makes it possible to direct your attention to those things you want to engage with and that has played a very significant role in my life. 

I have a lot of energy all the time; my brain is buzzing with ideas every second of the day, and when the batteries are low, I become an introvert. I always want something interesting to direct my attention at; this pushes me to constantly try new things or to learn more about things I already know. I think to have a healthy aging process, I must keep learning. I love reading; I try to read at least one book a week and keep the genre as eclectic as possible. I also enjoy music in every possible form – learning, playing, and listening.

For more on Olle, visit his website, or his science communication platform, Crastina.


In Conversation: Divya Anantharaman

For the fourth and penultimate installation of this series, I had the incredible honour of speaking to Divya Anantharaman, an award winning, premier taxidermist based in New York City and her specialties include birds, small mammals and anatomic anomalies. Having studied sculpture and fashion design in college, her passion for natural history drew her towards taxidermy. When she is not working, Divya likes cooking, reading, bird watching, and collecting vintage fashion. She also enjoys drag and burlesque.

In this interview, she tells me about her inspiration(s), everything about the beauty of taxidermy and how science and art are two sides of the same coin.

How and when were you inspired to learn about and practice taxidermy?

The moment it dawned on me that I wanted to be a taxidermist was probably one of my first visits to the natural history museum. I was so fascinated by the beauty of animals, and the ability to get up close to them.

Divya Anantharaman, NYC’s premier taxidermist

I grew up and a city and didn’t have access to travel the world and see these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, but as soon as I walked through those museum doors, seeing the artfully preserved animals changed my life and made me passionate about conservation. I wanted to make that magic available to everyone! I only learned taxidermy later in life, first by collecting books and watching videos online and practicing on legally salvaged roadkill or donated specimens, then by going to taxidermy shows and competitions once I gained more confidence. I switched careers fully about 5-6 years ago.

On your website, it says you left the corporate fashion industry to pursue your love of natural history. What is it about natural history that fascinates you so much?

Natural history reminds me of my place in the world. I’m reminded daily that all the life forms that inhabit this planet are part of something far greater than an individual. As much as I love and enjoy fashion, much of the industry is about ones self, image, and ego-nature reminds me that all those things are temporary, and gives me far greater perspective on what is important in life, and the legacy I’d like to leave behind.

“…all the life forms that inhabit this planet are part of something far greater than an individual.”

Divya anantharaman

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your work? What would the most difficult part be?

The most fulfilling aspect of my work is being able to connect people and animals, to inspire them to play a role in conservation.

The most difficult part of my work aside from constantly learning and perfecting anatomy and technique, would be finding ways to innovate and diversify this field.

How does art and science combine in taxidermy? How does this amalgamation increase dialogue between science and art?

In many ways! Practically, a successful work of taxidermy needs to be based in accurate scientific understanding of the animal (anatomy, habitat, etc) and executed with proficient artistic technique (sculpting, painting, etc). Science and art have a relationship beyond the practical-they ground each other and give each other imagination, unlocking new potential in each other. There is a wonderful harmony when the hand of the artist delivers a scientific message. Art appeals to our emotions and instincts in a way that science alone cannot.

What scientific principle would you say is central to the art of taxidermy?

There are a few! Most important would be anatomy, understanding not just what and animal looks like, but why. And learning the nuances  of a specific creature that vary with age, sex, habitat, and other conditions. Also important would be chemistry when it comes to the tanning and preservation of hides, and stability or painting and sculpting materials.

What is your favourite animal to taxidermy, and why?

Birds! There is such a fascinating array of diversity in birds, and their ubiquity. Their ability to fly inspires awe from a tangible perspective as and evolutionary wonder, and from a more abstract perspective in that they carry rich symbolism, lore, even carrying our hopes and dreams.

Do you think Science and Art are two sides of the same coin? If yes, how so? And if not, why?

Yes! I do believe art and science are 2 sides of the same coin. They are both ways of observing and making sense of the world, many times with similar motivations. The difference I see most is the presence of the preparators hand-where science strives to be objective, art fully celebrates being subjective.  The unique hand of the person behind the artwork gives it a sense of emotion and imagination, which can reach people in a way that acknowledges their humanity. I am so excited by the unexplored potential of combining art and science! 

For more on Divya, visit her website or check her work out on Instagram!

In Conversation: Anusha Banerjee

Anusha Banerjee is an aspiring geologist and a budding digital artist from Kolkata, India. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Geology from Calcutta University and then a master’s degree in Applied Geology from Presidency University, Kolkata. The “art-science-ness” of geology continually intrigues Anusha and in the future, she wants to be able to reach out to anyone interested in art and/or science, and make geology a tad bit more accessible. Anusha also loves to play the ukulele and the keyboard and sing, read random stories from history, browse r/etymology on Reddit, or explore her hometown, Kolkata.

In the third installment of the In Conversation series, Anusha and I talk about her love of geology and e(art)h science and the very prominent artistic element of the science of rocks.

When and how were you inspired to study geology? Could you elaborate on your experience studying geology?

This one is an interesting story. As a child, I loved the arts and sciences equally. In school, we were made to believe that they are both vastly different and can never become one. But over time, I began to find that they converged very often, and sometimes very evidently- like the colourful salts in chemistry lab, and fractals in mathematics. Back then, I was very interested in astrophysics and astronomy, and its least to mention that the images of space are enough to make anyone gasp in awe. So, I thought “Great! I am going to study astronomy.” At such a time, I began to realise that I’m going to have to dedicate a lot of time and energy to math, which sounded very intimidating to me. I started having second thoughts about the subject. One of my seniors from school told me about geology. Even though I had heard of the subject before, I didn’t know much about it. But, I was intrigued!

Anusha, in front of the replica of the Jurrasic fold, Geological Museum, Tsukuba, Japan.

It was fascinating- like being a forensic scientist of the Earth. The final blow came when I saw pictures of thin sections of rocks. To think that rocks could look like…that just did it for me. Then onward, it was just one beautiful journey.

What is your fondest memory of your time as a geology student?

There’s too many to start with, honestly. A lot of small moments make up my favourite memories as a geology student. The first time I held a real fossil in my hands (it was an ammonite), the first time I used a rock hammer to obtain a rock sample, the first time my classmates and I made a structural map of an area. Most of my fond memories go back to the field trips of five years, and practical classes- I can’t mention one by not mentioning the other. So I’d like to share a different, yet fond memory. This is from August 2019, when we were in Tokyo, Japan for the 23rd India-Japan Student Conference (IJSC) organised by Nihongo Kaiwa Kyookai Society. On a day off, I travelled to Tsukuba, and visited the Geological Museum in AIST. This is the biggest and only museum of its type in Japan, and has always been on my bucket list. It was my first time in a foreign country and travelling on my own to a place I have always wanted to visit was an emotional moment for me. There’s a replica of a fold from Jurrasic Age, in front of which I always wanted to take a picture of. And I did!

Anusha’s rock collection

In the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory”, Sheldon Cooper is famous (or infamous) for saying geology is not a real science. How would you refute him?

Oh, right. This one. I don’t think it’s advisable to go into an argument with Sheldon Cooper, but if I had to anyway, I’d like to remind him what “science” means- an endeavour to understand. There’s no such thing as “real” science, in my opinion. Something is either science, or it isn’t- in which case, it might be pseudoscience. It’s least to say that geological phenomena exist- we wouldn’t even be here if tectonism didn’t operate! Geology is indeed interdisciplinary, but it is also a science in itself. I might have overused the word “science” too many times, but I hope it explains the point.

How would you say art and science combines in the field of geology? What do you think of this combination?

I like to call my subject e(art)h science, because there’s so much art in it! I can never imagine geology without all the visual art there is in it- from the thin sections, to the stratigraphy, from crystallography and mineral structures, to palaeontology (macro- and micro-). You can see fractals in real life when looking at the Digital Elevation Models of mountain ranges, or the sutures of an extinct ammonite fossil, or the Fibonacci spiral structural of the Nautilus. I don’t have to mention how beautiful and exquisite the geodes and crystals look. Rock outcrops have a beauty of their own. However, thin sections are my favourite. Rocks are made of minerals, and minerals have different optical properties. What this essentially means, is that light interacts very differently with them. Fun fact! A rock is sliced to as thin as 0.035 mm to be able to study their mineral composition under a microscope.

Pyroxenite: Large crystals of pyroxene in Pyroxenite in XPL. Magnification: 50x, Photo By: Anusha Banerjee

(With jargon: Most minerals are anisotriopic- meaning they have different refractive indices along different directions- and in order to differentiate them, a regular transmitted-light microscope is usually not enough. For this, geologists use a special “polarising” microscope. First the light passes through a “polariser”, which allows light to vibrate only in one specific direction. An “analyser”, or second polariser changes the quality and direction of this light wave. With the help of a rotating stage, minerals are seen to have various “interference” colours- which very simply are the wavelengths of light they intercept.)

(Without jargon: Most minerals have a complicated crystal structure and can’t be differentiated using a regular microscope. Geologists use special “polarising” microscopes to identify the various minerals of a thin section. Under a polarising microscope, a special filter (called “analyser”) reveals the hidden colours of these minerals).

It’s truly magical.

Would you say the mundane world around you has changed since you began studying geology?

Entry into the world of geology is a one-way ticket. Once you are in love with the subject, you start seeing it everywhere. You start seeing it in the mineral grains of the “granite” tabletops of your kitchen- spoiler alert! These “granites” are not always granites – or the marble flooring of your house. Trips to the beach mean looking at the shape of ripples and understanding how the currents led to their formation. Travelling to the mountains mean understanding what rock type they might be made of and understanding the tectonism which led to their formation.

My gallery is often full of pictures of the rock slabs which make up an ancient temple complex, or polished slabs on Metro pillars. But most importantly, geology is more than just rocks, petroleum, or coal. Geology is a way of life. Once you start viewing how the Earth works and realise our place in it- you start to understand things on a deeper level, especially the greatest ongoing crisis at hand- climate change, and what it means for our species. In short: it’s not good news.

What form of artistic expression fits best in showcasing the beauty of geology?

Photography and painting! We’ve all become natural history illustrators (of rocks, fossils, and thin sections) in class some or the other time. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. My favourite e(art)h science pages are @drrhcmadden (rock samples), @alexstrekeisen (rock microscopy) and @linajakaite (3D geologic artwork) on Instagram.

Finally, what’s your favourite rock? Why?

Thin section of Anusha’s favourite rock, Olivine Basalt: In XPL. Magnification: 100x. Photo by: Anusha Banerjee

I had to think about this for the longest time. There are quite a lot of interesting rocks out there, but I guess my favourite would be basalt. This rock is formed by the solidification of lava on the surface, and is abundant on the Earth, Mars and the Moon. At places, it forms a particularly interesting hexagonal-column-like structure- these are called columnar joints and I think they’re very cool! Another reason I love this rock is because even though it looks dull and uninteresting on the surface, the thin sections reveal their beautiful colours!

For more on Anusha, visit her Instagram account. And stay tuned for a secret project she is working on!

In Conversation: Sneha Bharadwaj

Sneha Bharadwaj is a professional Indian classical dancer and has, over many years, established a Bharatnatyam scene in Munich, Germany. She graduated from Bangalore University with a bachelors degree in choreography, and later, from Bharatidasan University with a master’s degree in fine art. A recipient of many prestigious awards, Sneha has performed at various dance festivals in and around India, Germany, USA, France, Switzerland, Poland and other countries. She is also trained in Indian Martial Arts and Yoga. She is the founder and artistic director of the Indian dance school & company in Munich, ‘Abhinaya Indischer Tanz’ and ‘Abhinaya Tanz Kampani‘. By empowering through art, she hopes to continue celebrating South Asian art in Europe in all its glory.

In the second part of the In Conversation series, I spoke to Sneha about the art form she excels in, the highs and lows of it, and if the combination of science and dance is an arena that can be successfully explored.

How and when were you inspired to take up dancing as a hobby?

It was my mom`s dream to dance and she wanted me explore movements…for as long as I remember we both use to swirl and twirl to music, and she saw me the happiest when music was on and I jumped to express. With a busy school schedule, dance became a part of me. I was 5 when I started my formal training in Indian Classical Dance Bharatanatyam, under Late Guru (teacher) H.K.Raj who nurtured me into a dancer that I am today.

Do you remember the moment when you decided to pursue it professionally?

The process to pursue Art as my profession was very organic. I PROUDLY took up Art in the university…but the path, in the beginning, was scary. You see, socially, art is still not a valid profession because of the financial viability and no laid out career path, and so very early on I realized uncertainty is what you sign up for when you say you want to live a creative life.

Your question made me look back and I cannot pinpoint to a particular moment as when I decided to pursue it as my profession; art has been my constant companion, my happiness. 

What would you say is the most exciting part of your art? Is there a mundane/difficult aspect to it as well?  

Everything! The highs and the lows of creative process. Perhaps the most difficult part for me is the emotions. We artists work with our emotions, which are sometimes our own and sometimes the story or the particular character that we are working on and at some point, it does get exhausting to carry intellectual emotions and emotional empathy of a subject all through. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there is no particular login and log out in a creative process.

Whenever I experience feelings of discomfort in my life, I need to find an answer by transforming those feelings into my art. As much fun as I have in the studio, I take my role as an artist very seriously and I think being socially and politically aware of my surroundings is very, very important.

Choreographing is always like bringing new characters and stories to life and even parts of ourselves to stage. My storytelling arcs rely largely on research, community, and lived experience to form what I call a kind of constellation. And when the time comes to stop or to exhibit, I never really finish; all my works constantly grow in me, as the more you try to say, the more there is to tell. It is all about weaving a thought you have into a tapestry for others to see and be moved by.

If someone who isn’t well versed in Indian Classical Dance asked you to explain your art form (Bharatanatyam) to them in 3 or 4 sentences, what would you say?

Bharatanatyam is one of the major tradition of performing arts in India. It originated in the temples of India. The classical dance form Bharatanatyam is a profound synthesis of aesthetics, philosophy, sculpture, movements, poetry and literature. The art form is a mirror for ethics, laws, and the functioning of the society of today and of the past. It gathers all these strands and sets them in motion.

As someone who has pursued art professionally for a large part of their life, have you tried exploring the scientific aspect of your work? If, that is, you believe there is a scientific aspect to dance?

We live in a world of motion, energy, space, and time. Certainly, there is physics in dance…Bharathanatyam and Classical Ballet is an orchestration of the pull of the earth and freedom of space. It is indeed interesting when an analysis of physics is added to dance but I haven’t explored in depth. I hope to work on this path in the near future. 

What emotional and physical benefits does dance have on our body? Have you experienced these benefits within yourself?

I always approach my work at 3 levels:

On a physical level (Adibhuta), dancing is similar to that of other cardio activities — it works on all planes of the body, including lateral and rotational, which in turn conditions all muscles.

On an emotional level, (Adidaiva) it is an instrument to express, as it allows you to express every drop of emotion, to feel, and to unapologetically be yourself.

On a philosophical level, (Adhyatma), it is a journey inwards. By completely absorbing our attention for a long or short magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.

Sat-Chit-Ananda is the term I always try to see in my every practice and performance where,

Sat – To be present

Chit – One with the Art

Ananda – untainted bliss 

Do you believe we can use dance forms to communicate scientific concepts and increase accessibility to science?

Art is about connecting with people’s emotions. It’s personal and at the same time, universal.

In art forms, we are telling stories and stories should have characters and characters should have emotions. As I have mentioned, art is not just an intellectual process but also an emotional process. So if you are able to characterize or add emotions to science then it can be performed but it won’t stand as an epic work.

Science, the law of nations, constitution or commerce, economics, etc, when highly anthropomorphized and personified, can be brought to art. Just with pure dance (termed as Nritta) one can depict many scientific concepts (gravity, the structure of atoms etc.) but it will be a visual representation. One can definitely communicate scientific theory through art, but they would not become entertainment unless you humanize them.

Science concerns itself purely with the material world (Adibuta), while art transcends one from the material world to beliefs and emotions (Adhidaiva) and graduates to the philosophical world (Adhyatma).

Of course, experiments and science can be communicated through art forms like dance, but one needs to balance it, as there is a huge difference between the intellectual and emotional sphere. As a choreographer, you have to be very careful: you must make sure the science is not incorrect and that the art form still makes an impact on the heart.

If you had the chance to work with a scientist(s) to produce a show that revolves around a scientific concept, which field of science would you choose and why?

I believe an artist’s role is almost that of an alchemist. If I had to choose a scientific field, it would be physics; collaborating with the ideas that encompass both dance and physics is definitely worth the effort. 

Learn more about Sneha here and also connect with her to witness more of her art!

In Conversation: Haseeb Ahmed

The overlap between science and art is extremely large. In more ways than one, science and art are two sides of the same coin. Apart from glaring similarities in their principles, art is perhaps one of the most organic ways of communicating science (in my humble opinion). Through a series of interviews with my friends, colleagues and mentors, called “In Conversation”, I aim to explore this amalgamation of science and art and highlight all the times science and art converge in our daily lives without us actively realising it.

In the first installment of this series, I’ve interviewed Haseeb Ahmed, who, alongside being a dear friend and a self-declared film critic, is a bourgeoning physicist and a photographer. We talked about his major, his scientific interests and photography. He broke down the science behind some of his photographs and we discussed the prevalence of physics in photography and finally, the importance of photography to mankind.

What inspired you to study physics? Was there a specific moment that sparked an interest in you or was more like a slow process?

There was never really a eureka moment. I always liked science as a kid and enjoyed reading encyclopaedias. When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I received this electronic Lego set and I built some basic robots out of those; that was an interesting experience. I joined university as an electrical and computer engineering major but after my first year and after having taken some physics courses, I changed my major to physics and here we are. So, you could say it was a slow process.

Could you describe, in one sentence, the most exciting aspect of what you studied?

I think it’s very simple; everyone is curious to know how the universe and stuff around them works and that was also what was interesting for me.  

What about picking up photography as a hobby – how and when did that start?

I picked up photography when I was around 16. It was a free summer and I was looking for things to do or learn, and flipping through magazines and articles, great photographs caught my attention. I also came across the blog of a physicist turned photographer, Ming Thein and his consistency and style really inspired me. Over time, I got myself a small camera and started experimenting. I’ve always wanted to take part in something artistic and have some sort of creative output, and photography suited me best. I think I still have my first photograph somewhere around here.

As someone who has an eye for things/scenes/situations to photograph, could you recount a memory you have of something you looked at and immediately felt like you had to capture it?

A few years ago, my family and I went on this vacation among the mountains, and at some point, while we were driving there, I witnessed a scene where a strong sun beam was shining down on a river, which was flowing through a very steep valley. I remember asking my dad to stop the car so I could take a picture!

Has there ever been a moment, in your career, where physics and photography have intertwined, to create something meaningful?

That was when I was experimenting with astrophotography and took time lapses in the middle the night. It kind of gave me the opportunity to witness the motion of the universe…and I was also able to relate some things we had actually learned in class.

Why do you think photography is important to mankind?

Photography documents our lives. We’ve been recording our lives for the longest time and visual forms of this recording has always been important. I think anyone can take up photography and learn how to capture valuable moments. With a photograph, you can take a mundane subject and turn it into something worth remembering.

“Spectre”, Haseeb Ahmed, 2016

Tell me about this picture: the moment, the inspiration, all that.

The idea for the photograph started out when I was bored actually. It was pretty late into the night and I didn’t have anywhere to go, so I set up my tripod to try something new.

Could you, as a physicist and a photographer, break down the science behind this picture? How did you capture the person at the computer in a blur, but the rest was all still?

Cameras basically operate by opening and closing a shutter and letting light fall onto a sensor(or film if you’re old school). If you’re trying to take a photograph of people in general everyday activities for example, you want to keep the shutter open for a few microseconds at most, since at those timescales, we seem to be frozen in place. Keep the shutter open for too long, and you get blurry photographs. Motion blur is usually seen as a nuisance but here by using a camera set up on a tripod and keeping the shutter open for a few seconds, I’m deliberately trying to add it to the photograph whilst keeping everything around me still.

Is there any artistic meaning behind this photo?

The motion amidst the static objects adds another element to the photo, a temporal moment. In a way, it conveys how fleeting any moment it.

“Through The Looking Glass”, Haseeb Ahmed, 2017

I have similar questions about this photo as well. Tell me about the moment you decided to capture whatever was happening around you and tell me about the science behind this picture.  

My mom was visiting me (in Bremen, Germany) and my host family and I were showing her around. And the thing about me is that when I go out, I often fall back from the group to take a few pictures or capture a moment that catches my eye. This is one of those pictures.

I like working with light, reflection and motion for my photographs and the many reflections   on these glass panes from the light falling on them made the scene other worldly, and added a feeling of ambiguity to it. There are all these figures you can’t make out on the right while on the left, you can see the ‘real world’. All of these elements put together made the moment worth taking a picture of.

Is there any artistic meaning behind picture as well?

It felt like there was a portal to another dimension and it looked like people were moving through that portal. You can’t see the people clearly; it’s as if they are in some sort of a transition and that was what seemed artistic to me.

Take a look at some more of Haseeb’s photography here.