Passionate science: 6 STEM students share their hobbies

Students in STEM have many passions, both inside and outside of the field. Along with their love of science, they also enjoy exploring artistic and recreational activities. This allows them to break up their studies while also feeding their creative side and fills their desire for an additional challenge. Some see an overlap between their hobby and science.

Fancy footwork

How does a medical research student chill out after a long day investigating a protein that binds to the malaria parasite? Flamenco dance of course.

Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) student Anna Sharp says that art provides an important avenue for her to unwind.

“Dance is quite free and there’s a lot of room for self-expression,” she says.

“It’s good to get some release from everything else because science is so analytical.”

Anna has been doing Spanish dance since she was 11 years old, switching after several years of ballet. It was always something she had wanted to try, and all the motions are quite similar to ballet.

She learnt at a school in Perth, her hometown, which teaches flamenco and regional styles such as the Jota courtship dance. She prefers Spanish dance because there is more room for emotion than in ballet.

“Ballet is so structured and if you put on a production you have a set choreography…and you have to be smiling all the time,” Anna says.

“But in flamenco you can be doing some really hard footwork and you can really show in your face that it’s hard.”

The names of flamenco dances are usually related to the feeling of it. For example, there’s one called ‘alegría’ which is Spanish for joy and consist of a lively rhythm. Another known as ‘soleá’ is a much darker and more emotional style.

Anna chose to study science at the ANU because of the Ph.B, where she has particularly enjoyed the introductory physics course as well as molecular and cell biology.

Witty writing

Mysterious concepts, like quantum mechanics, inspire a double degree student to create science fiction pieces and combine his passion for both science and art.

Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Arts student Tim Stoddard says that creative writing allows him to ponder what he learns in the physics classroom.

“I enjoy that process of stepping back and thinking ‘how does this all fit together?’” he says.

“The big part of both [science and his writing] is ‘how does this narrative fit together? How do all these functions of the universe fit together?’”

Tim has been writing since primary school and describes his style as “quite like early 20th century horror, where you look at the unknown … and its paralleled with this idea of science fiction and the universe.”

His pieces explore the idea of being confronted by something we don’t understand and having to make sense of it.

Tim believes it is valuable to gain skills in science and art, which he can achieve through his majors in physics and English as well as his minors in science communication and maths.

“There are so many people who lose all the skills associated with one in favour of the other, when really there should be that overlap,” Tim says.

“There’s a whole heap of conceptual analysis in science that is related to that humanities style of thinking and vice versa.”

He occasionally enters competitions so he can experiment with different ways of fiction writing. He is also a member of the ANU Literature Society which runs a book club and casual meet-ups to talk about creative writing.

Tim chose ANU because it’s close to his home in Tantawangalo, NSW and was also attracted by the physics facilities. He has loved the opening physics course and introduction to creative writing.

Branching out

Writing and editing helps a physics student communicate complex concepts used in science and lets him explore extracurricular happenings on campus.

Canberra local Andy Yin is a Bachelor of Philosophy (Honours) student and the 2019 semester 1 science sub-editor for Woroni, ANU’s student newspaper. His role is to source science related articles from student contributors and edit them, helping authors get from their initial vision to a published product.

“I see it as a chance to give back to the science community because it gives students a chance to show off what they care about and practice their science communication,” he says.

Andy enjoys the challenge of science writing and making science engaging. He views editing as worthwhile because it’s parallel to writing.

“It’s a different perspective on the same thing and I thought it would help me improve my writing as well,” he says.

Andy is also the Educational Officer for ANU’s Science Society where he organises educational events related to science. He ran a LaTex workshop and ANU’s 3 Minute Thesis event.

“There isn’t too much room to branch out of science which is why I’m trying to do that outside of class. I also think its super valuable for pure science students to be branching out…into extracurricular and applying themselves.”

He completed a research project over the summer on diamond quantum computing. His project revolved around a special defect that naturally occurs in diamonds which can be used as a quantum bit.

Andy chose to study at ANU because of the experiences offered by the Ph.B. and has particularly enjoyed an advanced algebra course that explores fundamentals parts of the universe.

A rock-solid interest

“I think rocks are beautiful…but also I just love how you can tell the history of an area by looking at the rock.”

Rock climbing and rock collecting fills the spare time of an earth science major and physics minor from Sydney.

Chini Datta is Bachelor of Science (Advanced) (Honours) student who discovered an interest in geology ever since she travelled to the South Coast for a first year earth science field trip.

“After that course I just started looking at the world differently,” she says.

“I started to pay much more attention to rocks…before I took that course, I honestly thought that rocks were really boring.”

Chini is part of the ANU Mountaineering Club, where she can pursue her hobby of rock climbing and fascination for rocks. The club runs several outdoor activities including hikes and climbing trips to Tasmania and Kosciusko National Park.

One of the rocks she has in her collection is a piece of folded chert from a trip to Melville Point in Tomakin, NSW.

“Within the rock there are bands of red and yellow and white and it was…just absolutely amazing,” Chini says.

She also owns a sample of pink granite from The Hazards mountain range in Tasmania

She was drawn to ANU after being a part of the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF) program during high school.

Break a leg!

Where does a chemistry and science communication student fuel her creative side? In the limelight.

Bachelor of Science student Katya Cahill from Sydney says acting is a great way to engage with university outside her degree.

“I wouldn’t say I’m hugely talented but it’s just fun…it’s a good way to be involved and meet new people,” she says.

“It’s nice having something that’s not super high stakes, like study, but it still feels like you’re doing stuff…so it’s a break but it’s a much more satisfying break than sitting in your room for three hours watching Netflix.”

Katya’s always enjoyed drama, from scripted performances to improvisation, and has been involved in productions since primary school.

This year she is acting in Burton & Garran Hall’s production, A Flea in Her Ear, and is a member of the ANU Shakespeare Society and the National University Theatre Society (N.U.T.S.).

She enjoys participating in all the aspects of drama, not just the acting but also costume design.

She also sees no reason to restrict herself to either science or the arts.

“Yes I can do a Bachelor of Science and be really interested in that and do just straight chemistry but also yes I will be a comedy actor on the side…why limit yourself?” She says.

Katya chose ANU because of science communication and Canberra’s focus on university culture.

She has especially loved philosophy of the cosmos and the first year science communication courses on public awareness of science and scientific evidence.

Chemical cooking

“Chemistry experiments are like following a recipe, like cooking, and I love cooking!”

Cooking provides a keen hard science student with a relaxing break from his chemistry and maths studies.

Bachelor of Science student Ding Liuoui sees a connection between his love of cooking and love of chemistry. In both, you have to add ingredients (or chemicals) in a certain order otherwise it won’t work.

“[Cooking is] like chemistry – follow the recipe, follow the lab manual,” Ding says.

Ding discovered a passion for cooking when he began secondary school and learned from his mum.

“I started by helping my mum make stir-fries and then later learned from YouTube,” says Ding.

He cooks most of his meals and sees it as an opportunity to immerse himself in different cultures. He likes the satisfaction of creating something, whether it be a simple vegetable dish or intricate plate of sushi.

He sometimes uses it also as a social activity to spend time with friends and family.

Ding loves travelling and plans to go on exchange to the Netherlands in 2020. It is an opportunity for him to learn more about the world.

Coming from New Zealand, Ding chose ANU so he would have the chance to live in and experience another country. His favourite science field is physical chemistry and he has enjoyed the foundation course on that topic.

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