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What does a scientist look like?

Alexandra Duncan

When I’m out in a social setting relaxing, one thing that never gets old is seeing the looks on people’s faces when they discover what I do. “You’re a chemist?!?” Quick flashes of surprise and disbelief, followed by admiration and intimidation. The conversation would fall flat at this point if I let it. People rarely suspect that I’m a scientist. I understand: I don’t look anything like Albert Einstiein or Sheldon Cooper from CBS’s The Big Bang Theory. But it begs the question: What does a scientist look like?

Allie Wilkinson, a science journalist, set out to address this question and change our perceptions on her new hit blog, This is What A Scientist Looks Like. Scientists submit pictures of themselves, which are then posted to the blog. The scientists who submit photos choose how to define themselves. Some present themselves in the lab or doing field work, while others show themselves having regular hobbies during their off hours like mine with my pony, Brighton Boast A Bit and fellow BSR Blogger Adam Hill’s entry with his camera. The collection shows vividly that there is no definite form that a scientist “should” have. From the “About” section of the blog, “There is no rule that scientists can’t be multidimensional and can’t have fun.”
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Science and love

I want to spend a moment talking about scientists in love. Pierre and Marie Curie are perhaps the most famous power couple in all of science; together, they shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their studies of radiation. Marie went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for her discoveries of radium and polonium, as well. Their daughter, Irène, went on to win the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband, Frédéric, for the discovery of induced radioactivity.

At the moment, Berkeley’s College of Chemistry has more than its share of scientific power couples: Teresa and Martin Head-Gordon, Marcin Majda and Birgitta Whaley, T. Don and Rosemary Tilley, Michelle and Chris Chang, Anne Baranger and John Hartwig, and Kristie Boering and Ron Cohen. As someone who is also in a scientific relationship (with fellow BSR blogger Piper J. Klemm), I wanted to share some of the benefits and challenges as I’ve experienced them:

  • Home becomes a science zone. Sitting at the breakfast table can be a moment to discuss the state of federal funding for science, and a walk to grab a cup of coffee might suddenly be a discussion of nonlinear optics. For partners who want a refuge from work and research, this can be sincerely frustrating; for others, that means that they can constantly talk about the things that excite them the most with someone who shares that interest. There are thrills to be had from highly overlapping knowledge bases.
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