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.