Meenakshi Prabhune planned an affiliate event for Biophysics Week 2017; she reflects on that experience here.
Biophysicists are encouraged to get involved an organize an event for Biophysics Week 2018, March 12-18. Learn more on the Biophysics Week website.
You can take a biophysicist out of the lab, but you cannot take biophysics out of their mind. This realization dawned on me when I celebrated ‘Biophysics week’ on my blog last year. When I first came across the Biophysical Society (BPS) call for affiliate events, I wasn’t sure how I could help. It had been more than a year since I completed my PhD in biophysics from the University of Goettingen in Germany, and around 2 years since I last stepped in the lab. Yet, I felt compelled to contribute in some way to change the perception of this field among non-scientists.
The most common reaction of any non-scientist to “I work in biophysics” has been, “Wow, that sounds fancy”. More often than not, the conversation ended there. I don’t blame them. The vast amount of research that goes in laboratories all over the world involves a great investment of interdisciplinary topics. So, scientists have rightfully come up with legitimate interdisciplinary titles such as nanobiotechnologist, synthetic biologist, biophysicist, etc. The issue, however, is that the specifics of these fields remain confined within the lab or within a small inner circle of groups working on similar topics. Eventually, to the general public, they are all clubbed together under the ‘sounds fancy’ category.
Whenever I have these brief interactions with the general public, realizing that they were curious but intimidated by the field, I felt guilty for not informing more. Shouldn’t scientists be responsible for communicating their research to the public? After all, when we demand funding for science from the government, the taxpayers should know what exactly that ‘science’ is. Perhaps the right kind of explanation would help inform the utility of these fields beyond their fancy title.
Inspired by the mission of outreach, I chose to inform the public about biophysics via the medium of writing. I chose two representative topics for my blog. The first one was about nacre, which is the inner hard layer of mollusc shells, interesting in material sciences for its fracture resistance. This was the very project in my biophysics journey, wherein I investigated the role of one of the proteins involved in nacre biomineralization in its structural integrity. The second topic was unrelated to any of my own work topics, but more of general interest. Everyone has seen geckos defy gravity while running up a wall, but how do they achieve this feat? This topic beautifully captures the essence of biophysics; a perfect example of how a biological question can be answered using a quantitative physical approach.
In a way, participating in BPS ‘Biophysics Week’ was my way of giving back to the scientific community. I have learnt a lot from this field and loved its interdisciplinary aspect of balancing between diving into details as a biologist and generalizing to identify unified principles as a physicist. I believe that arousing public curiosity and interest regarding biophysics is the very least that I, or any of us, can do to increase its popularity beyond the lab.