Interviews with
scientists about beauty 

These are excerpts interviews with scientists at every level from a Masters student researcher through to senior professors, in several fields of biology, physics and engineering. 

We wanted to know how scientists talk about beauty, and how they see it interacting with science careers,  education or public engagement.

All the scientists self-selected to become part of the trial, knowing in advance that it was about beauty. We didn’t try to identify how widespread the experience of beauty in science is amongst scientists (although we’d recommend downloading the findings from this recent study if you are interested in that.

We had no idea if scientists would want to talk about beauty but the response to the call for volunteers was enthusiastic and everyone had a lot to say. Although most of the scientists said they experience beauty in science, the ways in which they experienced it were really different. We went into some interesting subtleties, so we’ve reproduced long pieces for you to explore. We were surprised how clear and well each interviewee understood their own interaction with beauty, and how strongly they felt about the culture in their fields.

There are other surprises in the interviews: some ‘obvious’ ideas about science and beauty simply don’t seem relevant to many of the people we spoke to. 

Other responses make you question the idea of beauty, or perhaps the rationale of science at all. There are parts that make beauty seem vague, universal, niche, or simply manipulation – and other parts that raise it to sublime, theoretically deep and singular experience. 

1. What made you respond to the call for volunteers? What does beauty mean to you in the context of science? What do you think we need to talk about?

Beauty as a concept is something that is immensely important for me personally in my career. It’s my motivator and it’s completely undervalued in my life world. So because we’ve got other measures of performance and having somebody that professionally talks about the beauty of it all was immensely appealing. I really, yeah. I think it satisfies a deep urge to have it included in my work life.

Over the years have started thinking more and more about science as something that is not just a scientific discipline. I’ve found myself thinking more and more about how its impacts on disciplines that seem to be quite removed from it. And so I’ve been thinking more about how science impacts on people and what people’s perception of science is, and so that to me, is linked in my head with the question that you posed, which is this idea of the link between sort of science and beauty, ’cause beauty is one way that people are emotionally impacted by something is by perceiving something to be beautiful. And so the more I work with people in the arts faculty, in the social sciences faculty, the more I’m trying to see what I do through their eyes and try to understand how can I take the things that I’m really excited about and maybe put it in a language not only that they understand, but that helps me understand it better as well.

Well, really, cause I want to help you out. But I think it’s an interesting question. So what do I think beauty in science is? I mean it’s very broad topic, so I guess my kind of assumption would be we would be talking about definitions of beauty in science, it’s merits. What I find beautiful in science. And how worthy is beauty in science relative to other strands of academic pursuit, I guess.

I am a plant scientist – at the moment focusing on the evolution of stomata for a masters project. A lot of research papers on stomata start with ‘stomatal research is essential for water control of crops’ in order to justify the work. Yes this is true – but is my (or their!) work directly related to agricultural applications? No probably not or at least very distantly… Yet, I find evolution a beautiful puzzle to unravel and the resulting diversity of flora has inspired me more than any improved drought tolerant crop variety. How do I write ‘its inspiring and downright awesome’ in a scientific way? How do I prove the worth of my research if it has no economic benefit?

I am reading a book right now that characterised my thoughts very well – its called Braiding Sweetgrass and the amazing author who is of the Native American Potawatomi tribe talks about attending a uni interview for a plant science/botany course. She mentions wanting to experimentally explore why Asters and Goldenrods look so great together. The lecturer responds that that isn’t the kind of thing you explore in science. She goes on later in her career to show that in fact the contrast between the colours makes plants more attractive to pollinators thus are more successful together than apart. Yet understanding pollinator behaviour is one small item on a very long list of why I think we need to research beauty 😊

It’s a topic that I used to discuss with friends of mine, doing the PhD in how many of us were doing research subjects, which may have not very much application in a human centered way. That’s because where I come from, in that University they do lots of taxonomy or just description of new anatomic parts of a parasite or of an ant, which is something very far from a wide audience project, like we are going to discover new bacteria that eats plastic. But still I was amazed by some good friend of mine and how she just said, “I don’t care about all that – for me it’s just beautiful to discover how things works and how these little flower-like sencilla is used by this animal” and I thought “yeah you’re damn right I agree.” So it’s a topic that I really like, that I feel close to. I think beauty is a hard concept to describe, no? It’s something that sometimes you feel like watching or looking at a landscape or a single celled organism maybe, and you feel like there is an aesthetic sense, of what you are observing – in a way that is not rationalizable, you just feel better, you feel good. There is something about it that reflects in your brain and gives you a burst of dopamine, but with no apparent sense. And this is my favorite thing, that I can’t really rationalize it, no? Especially when you study something that it’s not much related to your humanity, to you as a person that lives in a society which belongs to a species that has to make it at some point. So I understand that part of it is the aesthetics, but this is something else and I think you can discern the differences. And this is when the magic happens, like I see a spider, testing the web – creating the web with the net. And it just it almost moves me how beautiful is, but it makes no sense! I’m a monkey watching a spider and I should feel good about this? And exactly this lack of rationality is what amazes me, is what I think can be defined as a sense of a reflection of yourself in something else. Something like that. I don’t know, it’s big. 
 I think it’s quite an interesting topic. It’s something that I’ve thought about before and I’ve talked about before and read a little bit about before as well, and so I don’t know. Maybe talking about it will make things clearer in my mind as well. … [about] whether or not science is beauty. I guess that gets into what is beauty anyway. Sort of things like that. It’s very abstract I guess, and probably very personal. But yeah, I find that interesting.

It’s something that I think is not really discussed very frequently or perhaps very openly in terms of our day-to-day exposure to some scientific research in an academic environment, and I think that that is a real hindrance to the way we express scientific findings in a way of connecting with other people, who either are scientifically trained or not. I think that we’re emotional beings that see beauty in a lot of things and if you only focus on an objective outcome, you miss a huge part of what is meaningful behind the work. So I think it is a disservice to the people doing the work and the work itself if you don’t open yourself up to exploring some of those other elements that are inherently enmeshed in it, uhm, if that makes sense.

Yeah, it’s a good question, and I suppose an honest answer is I think [the definition of beauty in science] really depends a little bit. I know that’s not a very straight answer, but I think that I think in some ways I might define a sense of beauty, as a sense of wonder, a connection with the inherent value of something that you might be studying or learning about. For example, about the natural world, if you’re thinking of life sciences and so I suppose beauty for me is interlinked with those values – on what you’re looking at. So it’s not just that something might be visually attractive. It’s actually more the sense of wonder of how something actually came to be, or is the way it is and I suppose a sense of excitement in being able to uncover more or understand more about that.

I think if you want to stay in science, science has several advantages and disadvantages compared to a regular job, and one of them is that you can work likely, many  [people] – work on something a topic that they like and this this kind of liking had probably, to me that’s related to the beauty and so I work with ants, I always thought ants were interesting and I think that’s also kind of like beautiful to look at these ants doing stuff and whatever, and then connecting that back to being an actual job and so this this, I think many scientists would say what they’re working on is it’s kind of beautiful. Or at least I would say that it’s true for me, and that’s one of the motivations of doing this science is working with this, in my case, organisms.

It seems interesting. I’m a scientist and I think beauty is somewhat valuable. 

I think beauty is a subjective thing and people see it in different places. I see beauty in science. I think, for me science is quite artistic and can produce beauty, I was talking about this the other day, actually with my friend and it’s quite similar to if you ever tried, now they’ve got these new AI art generators, which are amazing and make amazingly beautiful things. And I think science is quite like that because instead of like doing like these delicate brushstrokes to make like a precise painting or something, it’s more you put in loads of prompts, which are the design of your experiments and stuff, and you have some idea what you’re going to get out, based on the prompts you put in, but you don’t know exactly and then you get something out in the end. And yeah, that’s cool.

 I don’t really know, but I’m sure I’ve had some contact with someone in the past. And they asked me to send a couple of images from things from my research that I thought were sort of beautiful. Well, my background is from botany, so for me science is tightly linked in with nature. So, you know, it’s not that I’m a pure scientist. I feel much more – even though now I do what someone might consider pure science – for me science and beauty have always had a very close sort of link together because I used to just like going into fields and looking at flowers and but that was science for me.
I responded to the call for volunteers as the project was interesting and intriguing – I do feel like I see beauty in science and thought it would be interesting to explore this further. Beauty, in the context of science, can mean different things to me – with biology and earth science, there is beauty in the natural world and in the intrinsic nature of how molecules and structures form. Within the physical sciences, there can be beauty in the structure of substances or in the detail of how equations and graphs come together. We need to talk about how beauty is often visualised in a more general sense, and think about how some fields of science (like maths or computer sciences) might be seen as less beautiful based on the fact that they may be less ‘visual’ in everyday life. 
I’m interested in natural aesthetics. I mean not in terms of, until now, the beauty of scientific theories, but certainly visual aesthetics, and trying to explain why we have them. I did about 15 to 20 years ago -jointly with a colleague in psychology, we put in for a Leverhulme Grant bid to study biological and psychological concepts of beauty, but the university in its wisdom only backed a bid from the Arts faculty, which was all to do with the influence of Roman and Greek culture on artistic appreciation of beauty and Leverhulme didn’t fund that, whereas ours was a really good idea: going beyond the sort of easy concepts of beauty which behavioral ecologists linked to sexual selection and mate choice. Clearly our sense of beauty goes well beyond that to things that have absolutely no relation, however tortuous your imagination is, to features of the opposite sex that you might find attractive. So trying to understand why they – what these things are tapping into in terms of our perceptual system that excite a similar sense of beauty, so I have a professional interest. 
I think that beauty in science and technology is important because ultimately it is what civilization is recognized for by its later generations. Think about, let’s say, ancient Egyptians, what were they known for by most people is building pyramids. Building 3 pyramids in Giza that somehow have very accurate square dimensions, even though they didn’t have any way to measure it as we can and the four tips, the three tips align with the planets, even though modern astronomy is only 300 years old. So what do most people think about when they think about Egyptians? It’s the beauty of the things they build. What is left of the civilization. People don’t know how they irrigated the Nile or how they build dams or what they use for transport but people remember the beauty of the hieroglyphs in temples, of the carving in sandstone, The massive scale of a Abu Simbel sculpture, statues, it’s the science and technology that was invested in these constructions that people remember the beauty of the hieroglyphs in temples, of the carving in sandstone, The massive scale of a Abu Simbel sculpture, statues, it’s the science and technology that was invested in these constructions that people remember.  Same for like -what is the Soviet Union remembered for? First satellites in orbit, first man in space, first woman in space, the deepest borehole ever drilled, the largest airplane ever constructed, and these are all scientific merits – it’s beauty that translates in technology. In about 100 years, people will still remember the first satellite in orbit, will still have picture of Sputnik while nobody will have remembered other less favorable things about the Soviet Union. What remains to future civilization or future generations? The beauty that that civilization created. And that’s why I think as a scientist and engineer, it is important that we also keep that in mind.
I remember when I was reading your e-mail that you sent around and talking. About kind of like the elements of beauty in science and it struck me because I feel like I work in a field of science, I’m a pollinator ecologist, that to me is very beautiful and I think the beauty is very obvious – also to outsiders – when I talk to other people about my research it’s kind of a very obviously beautiful thing to be working on ’cause it’s insects and its flowers and its nature and that’s a huge part of my own motivations, and the joy that I get from it. But also I believe that that beauty exists in all other forms of science and also particularly in things like maths, and I think that sometimes because I do a fair bit of science communication, it’s wanting to enable people to see that beauty in the things that are not obviously beautiful and that was, yeah, that’s why when I was reading it and I was like, oh, that’s a really cool project. And yeah, I totally understand that feeling of wanting to share that.
It is not every day I see scientists interested in the beauty of science and science communication, which is unfortunate. I volunteered because I was intrigued by the project topic, at the same time that I consider the beauty of science (or insects) as one of the main drivers of my interest in becoming a scientist.  For me, beauty goes beyond what I see and/or symmetrical structures in insects. Seeing a colourful insect can be beautiful (visually), but even more beautiful is the idea of how that specific organism contribute to ecological processes that are relevant for many other organisms, species and even ecosystems. Within the scientific realm, I find beauty and curiosity in linking my study organisms to the broader ecosystem they are part of – all the (in)visible (inter)actions that make insects part of something much bigger (e.g. tropical forests), which they support through multiple activities and depend on for their own survival. This is not only beautiful but extremely exciting to investigate!  Researchers are under so many pressures that it is easy to get lost and forget what makes us passionate about science. I think we need to talk about the beauty of science, not only to make us, scientists, remember what brought us here; but also to bring society closer to science and scientists. We are not robots, we are all influenced by our feelings and feelings can connect us. I, therefore, genuinely believe that talking about how we feel and what makes science beautiful for us could an approach to bringing society closer and engaging them to understand what we do. Ideally, this would be done by also understanding what multiple audiences identify as beautiful in science, so the experience would be an exchange between scientists and multiple audiences. 

I just think that it’s an important question to address. At least in my view, nature itself lends itself to us appreciating it as beautiful, and I’ve seen a lot of explanations. – of course, there’s obviously the evolutionary psychologists saying that is because, I don’t know field of grass meant whatever… But I’m also skeptical about these explanations as an evolutionary biologist. But I do also find this inherent beauty in nature, I don’t know exactly why. Maybe I don’t have to understand, it to be honest. So I’m quite happy with that, but at the same time I’m really curious –  I’m convinced that the beauty of nature is a major way to engage people with nature. And if you want to protect species, you need to – I realize that there’s no objective, materialistic, explanation to make people want to protect nature ’cause if you start saying, I don’t know, “this bison costs so much…”, – it is really not conveying the message. So I found out that in the end what you need is to make you fall in love with nature – and you fall in love with beauty, rather than with numbers. I really wanna bring in to help as much as I can any and all projects that try to push that idea, because I’m convinced that’s the way to make people care about the world, basically.

I think science doesn’t have the means to express it properly because the language that we use and the way we communicate about nature, I think it’s a bit demeaning to nature, to be honest. I think it’s so much greater than us, and we really think that we can describe it for tiny human little brains. I really think it is way beyond that and I love the ideas of metaphors in general, anything poetic to describe actual nature. I usually think that with metaphors you can get a lot more meaning out of less words. And you make it a lot more universal than with scientific language. And science is not really buying into that at all. I think, I personally find beauty in results, insights, – again from nature? From scientific research. But yeah, I wish there would be like some means to connect them. I remember that a while ago there was this, there was this Twitter challenge of Dance Your PhD. And I thought it was awesome. 

If science were to [express beauty] it would be expressed differently. We just have to find the tools. And the way it is, it’s really gate-kept. It would be hard to change the foundation of that. It’s been going on for too long, far too long. I’ve written short stories inspired on my research or my experiences during research. And I loved the experience. Or a lot of poems that are infused with experiences that I’ve had.

When it has to do with a with an experience that I’ve had with nature, it’s usually that I’m trying to translate nature’s beauty into metaphorical beauty, just to make it a bit easier to share. Because while you live a lot of things that you’re not quite able to express in non-poetic language. Then you have to resort to metaphorical feelings and I find that it’s crazy how general it is, how portable metaphorical language can be – someone could easily understand something that you just said, even though it’s a complete metaphor. And that is what AI is still unable to do. So if you ever think you’re talking to robot, drop a metaphor, see if they get it.

2. As a scientist, do you experience your work as ‘beautiful’ ? That might be the subject of your study, theories about the subject, the experience of doing science, or data, equipment etc. Please can you explain more about where you experience ‘beauty’?

To me, beauty, I encounter this in different ways. First of all, when I look for research ideas, it’s closely linked to create curiosity. So you just explore things, you read things. You can see biological concepts that are just a bit odd, you don’t want to work or spend your time with those. And then you see those that are just beautiful in their conceptual purity or just beautifully align with what you want to work on. So just picking your research direction to me is driven by beauty – linked to curiosity. Then the next thing is, of course at the end of your research. We are doing sensory biology, which means we are very close to physics and the rigidity of maths and analytical formula has a beauty to it, and I find it most beautiful when you find a biological system, and all of a sudden you realize that there is this match of the biophysics that evolution has invented – to what we know from theories. So there is a constraint, there is a mechanism that has been out there all the time. But either we didn’t know it or we didn’t apply it, and finding these matches between the physics and the biology: It’s just fantastic. I think it’s a thing of beauty because it’s a thing of purity. Biology is a historical science, which means everything is volatile and can change, and it’s very hard to find hard truths. But something that stays and is a hard truth is beautiful. I’m maybe a bit of an engineer or a natural scientist more than an evolutionary biologist there. To me finding rules implemented by evolution is beautiful and the example I have is my work on these sound absorbers. We knew that these bats are under evolution [pressure] – these moths are under evolution pressure and then we measured that they actually do something remarkable. Over the last six years we’ve worked out the physics of how they do it! And now that everything’s fallen together in these last months… I’m in an elated state. You found it, you cracked it, you found something that biology knew and has used for 50 million years! We were completely unaware that it’s going on, and now we know how, and now we can go and do something exciting with it for our benefit. And that’s beauty. To me there’s this excitement and beauty and everything in one rectangle.

Thinking quickly, there are three moments I experience beauty in my work: doing fieldwork, analysing my data, and interacting with local communities and students. 

I feel privileged of working on the ecosystem I research, not only due to its socio-environmental importance but also because in the field it is very easy to see and feel the beauty of science. By seeing beauty, I mean seeing organisms I have never imagined I would be able to see alive and in the wild – this includes plants, animals, fungi, etc. By feeling beauty, I mean being able to look around and realise that through science we can propose and test explanations to understand how ecosystems work, as well as see (and feel) things that are hard to put into words why we consider it beautiful – it can be from a leaf with cool spiky structures to learn “reading” the direction the rain is coming from by the sound of the water touching the leaves in the forest far away from you. 

I know it can sound very nerdy, but I also find beauty and satisfaction in analysing my data. This is because in the field we experience science in an intense and multidimensional way, we also think about the hypothesis we are testing, and we even sometimes observe patterns that make us curious about what the analysis will show. I find beauty in trying to translate what the data is saying through models and figures to address scientific questions. There is also some satisfaction with the idea of data analysis being part of the cycle of scientific work. 

I also find beauty in interacting with local communities and students. The first group, because many times I realised that what I was trying to test (or build scientific evidence on), as a scientist, was already observed by local people who live and/or depend on forests. Silly, but meaningful, examples include trying to understand how human activities are affecting biodiversity and listening to field assistants explaining why and how they would expect me to not found some specific organisms in specific places based on the needs of that species from their traditional knowledge. I see beauty in the fact that even coming from so different contexts and having so many different opportunities, many local community members are also naturalists and get excited to discuss science in their own words. I also find beauty in interacting with students because I see our role as scientists as a bridge between the present and the future – this could be seen both through the science and technologies we can produce, but also through providing support to future generations. We were in their place one day when others invested in us to become scientists and now it is our time to give back. 

Definitely I would say so. I think that even if people don’t realize it, the thing that drives most scientists to do what they do is seeing it as beautiful – like you could get paid, or whatever, [seek] reputation. But to sit down for hours and actually do the work, I feel like you have to be able to see something in that – something that’s attractive to you. And I think that I would call that beauty. I don’t know, people might disagree, but I would call what people see in it that draws them into it, beauty.

[I experience beauty ] In the way things that fit together. So I read a really good book recently called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and it was not what I was expecting it to be, but it was very philosophical and he talked about ideas of quality and beauty and you have the idea of romantic beauty and classical beauty, or ‘quality’ rather is what he called it. And he gave this really good analogy I liked, of your awareness is like a desert and everything that you could possibly be aware of is all the sand in the desert. But you’re only really aware of a handful of sand at a time ’cause there’s so much coming in, there’s so many things you could be seeing, smelling, thinking in your subconscious- it’s just all the desert. but you’re only really focusing on a handful of sand. And then some people can just look at that handful of sand and think, wow, that’s really cool, that’s really beautiful, just in its own right. But then other people could dissect the pile of sand and sort it out into different sizes, different opacities, different colors and they see a lot of attraction in that sorting process. And it’s the same thing they’re looking at, the same pile of sand, but they’re just looking at it in very different ways, and so I think there’s a difference in the sort of you see in science and the sort of you see in, I don’t know, art or whatever, but I think there’s still like a relationship between the two.

For a specific example, I think when you’ve spent a long really long time working on something, so for the past few years I did software development and I worked with a big team and we built like a massive project, and there’s so many moving parts that fit together very delicately. And it’s very precisely balanced, and if any one thing isn’t working, the whole thing falls down, and I think that balancing act and working on that and seeing and understanding every little part of it in order to continue working on it, I think that’s what I would describe as beauty. Because when you’ve got something working, I don’t know, you’ve been searching for a bug for ages and you find it and then suddenly everything is working. You just sit back and watch it and just, like wow, that’s really cool. 

[What I was doing then] was engineering, so that’s another topic: what’s the difference between science and engineering. It’s building something from ideas that have already been had before. People already had the ideas of computer science and whatever, and I was just taking those and building something new that was relevant to what we were doing, and whereas people downstairs in the lab, I’d say what they were doing was science, like it was a quantum computing, so we were building a quantum computer. The experimenters that stand in the lab, they were doing things that had never been done before, and like building a physical quantum computer and doing lots of experiments every day, just gathering data and finding the best ways to fit things together. Whereas we weren’t finding anything new. We were taking already established ideas and just putting them together in a way that would make their job easier and also allow other people to use our quantum computer. What I do now is that I’ve started a PhD in Quantum Technologies and what I’m hoping to do is what I would call science and I think, again, it might be slightly different, the way I see the two is one’s like discovering new things, one’s building something. And again, I think building something, again, is beautiful, but also discovering something new, that is also really beautiful in its own right.

[It’s like] the difference between staring at a landscape and just appreciating it for what it is: It’s just natural and this is the universe we live in. This is the landscape, this is the tree, this is the leaf, this is the flower – or someone who’s painted a picture and spent a lot of time putting something into that, and I think, the difference being, one’s just the universe, and it’s just raw and the other one is very cultural, there’s a lot of context to it, like when you’re building a bridge, there’s a lot of context and this is to connect two places together to get people across. We need to do that for, I don’t know, whatever reason, convenience. 

I think the other element of it is you have to have an understanding. And I think that’s where the context – because some people can find a landscape beautiful and other people not – like some people can look at the city and think it’s really cool and I’m OK about that. And I think it’s like it comes entirely from where you come from and different people see different types of beauty and different things. You can also share the same thing, so it’s also very personal, but at the same time very reliant on what you’re looking at and when it comes to science, it takes so much background knowledge and context for you to understand why what you’re looking at is beautiful. But you get that in art as well, like modern art is very – some people look at it and go “well what’s the point of that, you know it’s kind of stupid”, but there’s a lot of history and context behind what they’re doing. If you read about why they did what they did and when they did it and who they did it with, you can suddenly realize why what they did was significant, you know, and you’ve got to have that understanding in order to appreciate it.

Personally, when it comes to data, [I don’t experience beauty] so much. Like I would say I’m a theorist. When it comes to data, it’s something that I can do the manipulation of statistics, but the data itself, maybe not, and maybe that’s why I’m not an experimental physicist, whereas someone else might see that as beautiful and be more drawn to that, like as I say as well, so just because I don’t see it as such a way doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful for somebody else.

I really like teaching. I like explaining ideas to other people and I like having them explain to me and like having conversations about them. And that’s probably the best way to come to understand it better. You share those thoughts and ideas with other people and in only doing that, that’s the only way you can come to understand it better together. And maybe that’s why different people can see the same thing as beautiful, because we’re sharing knowledge of it in order to get a better understanding of it. And we can both appreciate it together.

As a pollinator ecologist I spend a lot of time in the summer out in the field observing pollinators, observing plants, thinking about flowers and so all of that is a very obvious beauty. And I think there’s that sort of beauty in detailed observation where you can just like look at a field of flowers and be like, oh, that’s a very beautiful thing. And then the closer you look, the more beauty there is, the more kind of fascinating little things there are to see and for me things like looking at a flower that’s maybe a really kind of bog standard, just like something you’d find on the edge of a road… You know a lot of people might look at it and think, oh it’s just a weed. And then you look at that close up and it has beautiful structures, amazing complex structures and it’s just there and we just don’t really notice it a lot of the time. And the other thing that I think is for me a source of beauty in my work is the idea of connection. That, I’m thinking about the connection between plants and insects. But then also there’s all the other connections that you know. It’s food webs, it’s all of these things being linked together in the kind of grander scheme of ecology. The way that humans are linked into those systems, the way that everything exists as part of an interconnected web, and to me that sense of connection is a really beautiful thing and is almost at times an almost religious or spiritual thing that everything being connected and dependent on each other. And that’s – yeah, I definitely feel that a lot when I’m when I’m doing my work.

I think that [research] can enhance [the experience of beauty] because when you gain understanding in a greater depth, then you see more beauty in it and it really struck me a while back I watched that documentary about fungi, “Fantastic Fungi” or something, that came out and people loved it and raved about it. And I watched it with a friend who is also a scientist – but is a physicist and we were talking about it afterwards. And one of the kind of things they talk about in that documentary is this idea of connection. Of all living things being collected connected through these fungal networks and mycelium and the way that is channels of communication between everything that’s living. And for me that was a very obvious concept, I felt like I knew that and that idea of all living things being connected, that’s my daily experience of what I do. For my friend, that was a moment of discovery, of “Oh my God, this is amazing, I hadn’t thought about this idea of everything being connected in this way”, and the joy and fascination in that. So I think that yeah, even because of me finding beauty in that particular thing and that sense of ecology and connectedness, that’s definitely enhanced by what I know and what I study and what I see. You don’t have to be a scientist to experience that, but I think that the discovery enhances it a lot.

I think sometimes with analysis there’s a beauty in maths and a beauty in numbers, and being able to describe things mathematically and can be incredibly satisfying. And I think there is a beauty in producing a really beautiful graph or a really beautiful figure, that I think is something that gives me a bit of a kick sometimes. And also something I really like about my particular discipline within ecology – a lot of it feels quite homemade, a lot of the time in terms of equipment that we use. A lot of ecologists if you’re out doing fieldwork, you’re not in a lab, you’re not using kind of state-of-the-art stuff. A lot of the time you’ll use pretty basic tools. You’re using stuff that’s quite homemade. You know there’s always something that’s been like duct-taped to something else to make it work. And I think that that that homemadeness of it, that actually everything is stuff that anyone could really use. I think that there’s something about that, there’s that kind of beauty in that of just being out there. And also stuff that’s quite old-fashioned, you know we still use the same equipment that was used by the Victorian explorers who went out and were discovering things for the first time and recording them. We’re still using the same stuff as them, I really like that.

I think that [beauty] is an innate part of science and discovery. And I think that knowledge is beautiful and understanding is beautiful, so anything that’s broadening your view of the universe and making you see things in a different way. There is a sense of beauty in that. I wish that more often we thought of our outputs in terms of beauty, because I don’t think we do and I think it can be very easy to get caught up in writing papers and getting data and it’s stuff that can end up a lot of the time these days it just ends up with something on a screen and you don’t really do anything with it. And if you look back again to, say, Victorian times in the way that Natural History and ecology was done back then, there was a lot of creativity, in that there’s a lot of artwork. It was producing beautiful paintings of ‘this is the thing that I’ve seen and discovered. These are illustrations of what I’ve observed.’ We don’t do that so much anymore and I kind of wish sometimes that we did because I think to make it, there are so many things where you’d be like here is a really beautiful representation of this knowledge, of this discovery. Yeah, so I think we should, we could do it more for sure.

I do and I think a lot of that comes down to why I went into science in the first place. So I think that anything can be beautiful because it’s about how it impacts on you, and how you experience it, and for me there is a beauty in solving something and finding a solution, finding everything fitting together neatly. And there’s also a beauty in chaos and not actually having a solution and things looking kind of weirdly disparate, yet all somehow working together.

I do sometimes and actually not always when it’s going well. Sometimes when it’s not going well it can be equally beautiful and I find myself yeah, I do find beauty in it. I find beauty in the images that my type of measurements that I do, the images that they create can be quite startling sometimes and I can find particularly when, you know that I get a result that’s maybe slightly unexpected or whatever, I can find myself going, “My God. That’s gorgeous”. Like that’s for you to look at the symmetry on that, isn’t that amazing. And actually I find myself – I have a colleague who shares images of the X-ray diffraction patterns that he’s taken going “Look how beautiful this is “and we do mean it as a kind of very – it is beautiful because we’re looking at a nanoscale and sub nanoscale structure. But we’re able to see, and kind of envisage what that must look like in real space and it’s gorgeous. You know, it’s actually genuinely quite movingly beautiful sometimes, so I think I do, yeah.

It’s [scientific] images themselves I think are actually genuinely lovely to look at, but I also think it’s definitely what they represent, my real fascination has always been the link between form and function. It’s this idea that the structure of something dictates what it does and that that’s ubiquitous across all length scales, and I think that that to me is incredibly beautiful, that looking at structure and just you can look at a structure of a bone, for example. And it’s beautiful to look at. But it also has a power to it because it’s it dictates what it does. So I can create images on their own that I think are objectively beautiful. But the fact that I can then translate those into something that means something more than just the image. I think there’s an inherent beauty in that as well.

[In equipment] it’s a strange kind of brutalist beauty. I’m a huge architecture nerd and I really like Brutalist architecture and I find going to for example, the diamond synchrotron. The stark concrete and the steel and the kind of just the sharpness of it. I walk in and I think this is like a cathedral, I get the same sort of feeling that people must get when they see, I don’t know, Neo Gothic architecture or something. I think this is just brilliant. There’s something quite visceral about it. In data: I think it’s about how the data are presented. I don’t derive a huge amount of beauty from a bit of Python code, although I imagine some people probably do. For me, yeah in equipment definitely. In data, maybe not so much so.

I don’t know [if it’s all the same kind of beauty experience] It’s my response to it. It’s how I respond to it and it’s the excitement and anticipation of seeing something that’s really attractive and really speaks to you. And I guess that’s the same whether it’s walking into an experimental hall and seeing all these incredible pieces of equipment or looking at something that’s an absolutely stunning symmetric scattering pattern, that I can’t believe that I’ve made. I think my response to them is probably the same, so they’re probably two sides of the same coin, really.

I think [experiences of beauty] have helped focus me in a way. I’ve always been fascinated by structure. Always. My parents will tell you I was constantly building things. I was always trying to work out how things were put together. I was the classic – I would take stuff apart and then try and rebuild it. The point where I really got it, was during my undergraduate degree was in my third year. I can remember the exact lecture that I was sat in. When the guy who went on to become my project supervisor actually, was telling us that the arrangement of atoms in the photosynthetic centres of plants were the same as the arrangements in single molecule magnets, and that you could learn about how to make a material by studying a naturally occurring phenomenon. And he just drew a cube of atoms up and said, you know, this relates to this, but this is the plant and this is what we make in the lab, and I’d never had somebody put it so starkly before that nature was an inspiration and I’d always written off anything that I that I perceived to be biological because I thought I didn’t understand it and somehow he was saying, “no, no, we can look at it on an atomic level and we can learn from it”, and suddenly I thought “Oh my God that’s incredible”, and that was to me, I remember saying “that’s the most beautiful thing anyone’s ever told me”. That there is this link, there’s this intrinsic link, at an atomic level between what a plant does and what we can make in the lab, and I had no idea that that existed and that to me was an absolute – I entirely switched what project I was doing on the basis of that and ended up going into that. Everything I do now is on the basis of that lecture, and he knows that and he hates me for it. We’re still in touch and he says “I can’t believe I said one thing and that’s changed your career” –  but it did! Because I saw something that I thought was inherently beautiful and I thought, right, that’s what I want to do, that’s. I found it. I’ve found the thing.

Then, I guess I’ve gone through some real dips in my motivation in my career. But I started collaborating with someone in Glasgow about 6-7 years ago and he brought me a load of structural issues that he was having with materials and asked me to help solve them, and I discovered a whole new method of doing it. And this is the kind of data that I now generate every day, which I love, and I find really beautiful to look at. And he’s the guy who I share things with – I’ll take a picture of something and say “Oh my God look at this. Look at the scattering pattern. How amazing, how gorgeous. How much does this tell us?” So I think it’s been an inspiration and a motivator at different points.

studying hasn’t changed my appreciation of beauty,] I think all it’s done is it’s given me another outlet. It’s giving me another way of looking – it’s giving me another appreciation of beauty. I sometimes find things to be very beautiful that that I think other people think I’m a bit mad or a bit kind of weird for. So particularly, you know when it comes to things like architecture and stuff, I tend to go for stuff like I love a big concrete building. I love them and I find actually, the inherent engineering behind that I find really beautiful and people say “but it’s just a block” and I’m like “but it isn’t it”. It’s so much more than that and so I think I’ve been able to appreciate I think maybe different types of beauty. Whereas for example an Impressionist painting which is held up to be, you know, by most museum standards you know these are beautiful things – kind of leaves me cold. I don’t really get it, but I also appreciate that other people do.

[Beauty is] a thread that weaves throughout [the scientific process] and I think it has to be, and I think sometimes you know the thread will be slightly more dominant, but I think it’s got to kind of be there to join it all together.

I guess there’s a pure aesthetic beauty in science in terms of like what you study, so I mean one of the nice things about working biology is you work with pretty things. Arabidopsis mutants look particularly pretty to me for example. Or flowering plants are fundamentally beautiful I guess. And then there’s, aesthetics aside, I think there’s a kind of elegance in science for me, that’s almost kind of equivalent to beauty in terms of the way you approach your subject. You know, if you set up a series of experiments and very carefully and innovatively address a question. There’s an intrinsic beauty to that, I would say. There’s also a beauty in just the kind of finding out the unknown, I mean that’s what science is. It’s asking about how the world around us works and I guess this fundamental interest in what’s out there and what we don’t know is kind of awe I guess in terms of another strand of beauty.

I made a beautiful scatter plot a couple of years ago and I thought, yeah, this looks really good. I’m really proud of the colour scheme and I just thought it looked very visually impressive for sure.I guess really the most beauty I feel is when you read about other people’s work. You’re quite familiar with your own work, but it’s when you might read a study by another group is working a similar problem and you see how they’ve come up with finding a solution, you know that’s really, that’s really neat. That’s really a beautiful approach to solving that question I guess in terms of reading other people’s work. What else do I do a day-to-day basis?

I’m trying to figure what’s the difference between beauty and just basic science where you ask a question because you want to find out the answer without any explicit translational benefits. You just say well let’s find out about the world. I think that is beauty, I think it’s just a different way of putting it. I mean basic science is the same way people looked at the stars and tried to measure the movement of the moon hundreds of years ago. That’s basic science and that’s just beauty put another way really. You might not put on a grant proposal “this is beautiful” you might put, “it’s of fundamental importance that we discover” But really, what you’re talking about, I think is more is kind of awe and wonder of the natural world and trying to understand it.

Certainly not always, but there are moments when you do things and you really just appreciate the beauty of it, I mean I work with a microscope as well sometimes. So obviously when you look down at any tissue it can be quite beautiful. And I’ve used GFP to mark cells to look at nucleus doing transformations and they’re just fascinating and intricately beautiful things to my mind.

Mine is not highly intellectual. Mine is an emotional rather than it’s an intellectual thing. I don’t think I’m particularly intellectual person, I’m even almost a little bit stupid, I’m not one of these high level scientists that’s really switched on to things. So I can be turned on by things that are quite simple really so I don’t know if I’ve got that intellectual concept of beauty. It’s a very sort of gut response to things – “oh I like that!”.

I obviously can get some ideas of beauty, but it’s not, it’s a slightly different emotion perhaps ’cause, I mean at the minute, perhaps we’re doing some work on genomes – and obviously the concept that you know a genome is this sort of strange multi dimensional thing out there. It can be quite fascinating and trying to bring that in and somehow represent that as a visual thing so people can actually explore that? I suppose it has got its beauty in it.

I’m not a lecturer, but I have lectured and when I’m lecturing sometimes – I know ’cause that I can get quite excited about when you’re explaining something and obviously that’s because I think what I’m doing is is fascinating and if it’s fascinating, it’s obviously there’s some sort of beauty there. You know, if you get the buzz? 

I sometimes find the actual fascination with what I work with just amazing. And it makes me genuinely happy. Of course, I’m working with genome regulation and evolution which in itself lends itself, to me at least, to a great fascination with the fact that a lot of these things basically operate that way in a very autonomous way, that has happened through like, the refinement of the system over millions of years. And uh, well, I just find it like- I find it like as amazing as really believing that the whole thing was created and it just really, really touches, it really inspires me and makes me want to wonder more – which in the end is what drives me to do more research.

I don’t like that science tends to separate want to separate itself from Arts in general, which – arts for me is like an exploration of the aesthetics – which leads to you some beauty appreciation for that  – and the reason why I reached out specifically on that day [to volunteer] was I just came to the realization that I had this idea, coming from a long way, I don’t have to go into the details now, but that I was really struggling to formulate in scientific terms and I realized that it was a completely aesthetic idea which would still help me to ask better questions eventually, but I was really trying to boil it down to the numbers so I could make an actual research question of it. But it was very hard. I then realized that I didn’t have to and I thought that was really cool. I was extremely lucky that I could have this aesthetic idea to inspire me to do to do research, but then science often like shies away from that and I think it would benefit a lot from the contribution and to seek other means of expression, for example as opposed to just a scientific journal, blah  peer reviewed… I think there’s a lot of space for like, art and beauty in conveying scientific concepts.

I think the duality is like within me in the sense that I feel really inspired and I get a lot of energy from more artistic and aesthetic energy sources. And I don’t feel that it’s reciprocated in the rest of the scientific world, or at least the establishment scientific world. You need to go to really niche groups and you eventually find people who are willing to join everything up 

I find that nature is inherently beautiful, and sometimes I do find that science is kind of spoiling a bit. That means, in the sense that we try to make it so human-readable that it becomes, you know, less magical.

In that aspect, I feel that I’m a bit more open than the rest of the establishment – the field of research – in the sense that I am willing to  let these feelings through, as opposed to thinking, “unless I can explain it scientifically, I cannot”  – which would be in a paper when you write it, you cannot go on about something about beauty because then people would think “he is not serious.” I understand why, because we don’t have to get into the history of science and modernity, but of course it stems from that and the fact that we wanted to distance ourselves from nature. But I don’t agree, I think we are part of nature, and the knowledge is not ours at all. It’s nature’s knowledge and we’re translating into human-readable form.  And that to me already is a beautiful thing, to realize the fact that we’ll never know as much as nature – period. Mainly because it’s infinite information that’s encoded in infinite different ways and we’re still- for example comparative genomics – which is the name that is given to what I do – it’s another universe, in which you literally won’t see the great majority of it unless you do really ridiculous amounts and spend ridiculous amounts of resources. 

It will depend on the person, you can look at, I don’t know clouds, for example, as like ‘adiabatic systems of pressure and air and whatever’ or you can just choose to like look at them as clouds. And we admire the beauty of the cloud  – and it is interesting I understand that, but it’s, I think it’s a lot down to the choice of the person per se, to allow themselves to just be impressed by the raw nature – or have to translate it into numbers and figures. 

In the end, I do want to do a career in the establishment. So this is always something that I have to juggle.

I started as a field biologist, but now it’s like it’s basically I’m doing my field work on my computer and with information in the sense that it’s actually already in a computer. You’re still gleaning some insights into nature, so in that sense, it’s like an astronomer uses a telescope, you can see a bit more and it gives you more wonder. The fact that you’re using a technical contraption in between doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re already filtering it out. It’s just that also with computers, people get the general impression that it’s square and everything’s really [dull], but actually programming is a really creative process and I’ve actually loved every second of it. It’s really very free flow and it can become artistic, it stimulates certain areas of my brain that are not definitely not square.

If I’ve learned something from biology, it’s that there are no lines – as much as we try to put them in. The  exploration for me is really a big [source of beauty], and the formulation of questions. I’m not a fan of writing, to be honest, and that’s especially when you have to fit a certain structure and sometimes – I don’t think I could do any better with writing a poem about my research to be honest, although it’d be a lot more fun admittedly. But with [writing] I feel a bit more conflict.

Then you have the sitting-down-to-think section, which doesn’t happen very often, sadly, in research in general. ‘Cause you’re always working on something, right? And then you don’t get the time to sit down and think, but I feel that those are the best moments. It really depends on the actual moments:  I can be immensely frustrated for 3 hours for example, and then resolve everything, and at the end I’ll be feeling amazing. That’s so good. I sometimes do feel like that happens and I see my work as solving puzzles all the time. 

It’s more like excitement, to be honest. It’s beautiful when I’m able to figure out a really clever algorithm, let’s say, to extract what I want in an easy and quick way. It sounds a bit cocky to say that that’s beautiful – because I made that beautiful thing, but you know…

I think beauty in science is broad, certainly encompassing attractiveness of a system I see in the classic beauty of a flower for example. This also relates to getting to know my local flora that gives me a new appreciation for my surroundings, taking in its full beauty as I dissect the corolla of a weedy purple toadflax, where as before I might simply walk straight past. Yet also complexity is often a source of beauty in science for me – the intertwined web of a gene regulatory network or the intricacy of a molecular metabolic pathway. Furthermore diversity and variation can also be equally as astounding in biology. I was lucky enough to work in Kew herbarium this summer where dried specimens are stored in cupboards of every species of plant ever to be collected to date, some of which may now be extinct. To see in 3D space just how much ROOM this takes up! 5 wings of a huge three story complex and a basement (probably life sciences building x 3!) it gives me a sense of awe and wonder that I think would certainly count as appreciation of beauty.

Definitely sometimes, not all the time constantly. Simply I think it really depends on which stage of work I’m in and so my research is predominantly fieldwork based so I definitely think that engaging in marine biology work as well – and so I think engaging in the underwater world is definitely filled with many occasions of just a very profound sense of beauty and, then I think perhaps I could say that the process that you go through in an academic environment from thinking of a question, so sort of philosophy behind that – and then moving it into actually answering the question, all the way until the output of what you actually think the answer might be… I think that process can be beautiful as well if you step back from it. But then there are many moments where I think you’re just sitting behind the computer screen looking at data. Well, I suppose that can be beautiful too, but that’s not my automatic response, I think that’s the thing I don’t like, So there’s a bit in the kind of overall process and there’s a bit in the in the moments when you’re, you know, underwater or looking at underwater things. I think I have definitely a sense of the beauty in being reminded of how much is unknown, or how little we know, or how much we’re still learning about a process or a system that we might be studying, I find that personally, definitely based on the definition I gave before, of how I see something as beautiful, I definitely would describe that as beautiful. I think it can come into every stage [of the scientific process]. I think what definitely helps more, I suppose, than the particular stage is maybe the way you’re engaging with whichever stage you’re in with other people. So I think that, for example, the initial stage is definitely a moment because you’re reflecting on whole systems or what you understand within systems and that can be a moment where you really can engage with the beauty of it. But I think that’s pretty strongly driven by if you’re discussing with other people who maybe connect with that, that sense of wonder, and then that really ignites that much more than if you’re just sitting in your own thoughts. Whereas if you’re doing, for example, the fieldwork, for me that’s actually a moment that is to do very little with other people around you. It’s a non-human experience and that has beauty in that. I think that’s the moment when it’s irrespective of the people around you and the discussions you’re having, that you are kind of brought out of that human perspective of the question and brought into the system that you’re in. And that is also beautiful and very different from the previous one I described, I think I guess I would say they are …probably different experiences of beauty, because I guess you can be exploring the same element: One is the actual physical experience of it and the other is the discussion of it. And both of them are beautiful in different ways, if that makes sense. So I think maybe the beauty is what is creating that sense of wonder, or that that appreciation is the same. – No, I don’t think it’s the same. I think, I’m sorry – I think it is different because I think that when you are discussing and exploring, your perspective is different. And so yes, there might be a lot of overlap in terms of what is beautiful, but I think that what you’re experiencing is different, and so the beauty that you’re experiencing or enjoying is different.

My background is electronic engineering so I’m first engineer then scientist. And I think it only takes a small amount of extra effort to create something that is beautiful and functional as well. It takes 80% of the effort to create something and with 20% extra you can also make it beautiful. So why not go through that effort, if it will reflect on the reputation of the field, the perception of the general public, or the appreciation of peers in the field for that matter? So for example, just a very simple thing at a few months ago I was designing an experimental stage and it was supported by 4 pneumatic cylinders, which are things that extend with compressed air and according to the mathematics I had enough with three – but it’s a square platform. So how do you arrange 3 dramatic cylinders under square platform? It never looks really good. So I added the fourth cylinder so they have one at every corner. Is there a reason for it? No, except that now it looks beautiful, whereas with three cylinders on a square there would have been no nice way to arrange this. So now the documentations as well, we have a 33% safety margin because there is an extra cylinder. Did it cost a bit more? Yes it did. Did it take more effort? Yes it did, but now it is beautiful and for the next 30 years when it’s going to be used, people will appreciate that for us. Otherwise in next 30 years people will say. How is this ugly thing that is still functional? How did somebody think this would be a good idea? That’s a good example.

I think the beauty is an intrinsic part of the work because it’s not that you build 3 pyramids and then you decide to arrange them in a line. You can’t do that, you have to first think on how to lay them out before you start construction. So somebody definitely did that thinking step before making the decision ‘well, now let’s start building them.’

In the development process you realise well, I have this opportunity to make it greater than it otherwise could be, and then you have to decide for yourself on how much extra time I’m willing to invest in doing that, but ultimately it can be in the conceptual phase like with the Pyramids or it can be throughout the research and design process as well, 

I think it’s fair to admit that a lot of us have, to some extent OCD and like elegance in our work and that’s something I definitely also strive for. [We are] working on the implementation of the deuterium into metallic wires. It’s for a fusion project and we measured the implementation rate and found that it’s proportional to current and inversely proportional to speed. With linear correlation and then just ‘a number’ – but it’s a very ugly number because it’s a combination of all different parameters.So either we say, OK, we take that ugly number, multiply with current, divide by speed and that’s it… But I don’t want to publish that, it doesn’t look very elegant, it’s just a random number. So we spent about a week extra to work out which other parameters influence it, until we had an equation with, I think implementation efficiency and electrolysis efficiency divided by Avogadro’s number, multiplied by elementary charge. So in the end, this really ugly number was transformed into a multiplication and division of four other known physics constants, so the ugly number was gone. Suddenly the equation was a lot larger, but the ugly number was gone and we thought it was well worth investing another week of research into making that equation more elegant. It’s still the same thing but it’s more elegant

The way we implemented it was also beautiful. We invested a lot of work in implementing this process. So we decided we could not afford an ugly equation to represent a beautiful process that we had developed.

It has to do with nuclear fusion, so you could say it’s something that would fascinate a lot of people, not necessarily because getting deuterium implanted in a metallic wire is so spectacular as such, but the implication in the long run will be probably fairly significant, so even in 50 years people will write a textbook about nuclear fusion, and in the history chapter it is mentioned how the first deuterium fuel was implanted in its target material. Then I don’t want that ugly coefficient to be in that textbook. I want to be very elegant equation .

I hope they will appreciate the beauty of this, but isn’t that what we are all doing? Isn’t a painter also somebody who hopes that the people who are viewing their work in an art gallery will appreciate the work for what it is?

It could inspire somebody to dig further into the subject because if you just have like a table with numbers you know, like these matrix multiplications – it’s not very appealing to look into work. If you had a very convoluted theory, but if you have a nice, elegant, simple equation that represents a fairly complex engineering model. Well, that’s something that would intrigue a lot of people – like how does fusion correlate with elementary charge? For example, that’s why we wanted to get an elementary charge in that equation because we thought you’re fusing ions together, so then charge is important. That we want to have that in there. Is it necessary? No, not really, because it’s all a game of numbers in the end. But it adds a bit of beauty to the science

[You could do science without an experience of beauty] yeah, definitely, but it would be much less satisfactory for the people who were working with it – for future generations, because essentially all the science we’re doing is building up on what people did before us, which will then be used by people who come after us to continue the work. So it’s also important that we think of what we pass on to future generations, I think.

I think people use and experience – apply the idea of beauty to actually an overlapping sense of emotions, and it’s not always easy to pin down exactly what you’re feeling. So outside of a scientific context, certainly, you know, when I climb up a mountain in Scotland, or the Alps and look at the view, I think that’s beautiful and I feel a sense of exhilaration or excitement. Which is a different type of experience when looking at a particular artwork that I might find aesthetic appealing or, you know, even a motor car. I don’t drive and I don’t approve of cars, but some designs of car I think – that’s beautiful. Similarly with music. Some things in music which we describe – I would describe as beautiful, are actually invoking some session sense of sadness and melancholy. But I would still describe them as beautiful.

So when it comes to a scientific theory, or scientific discoveries… I personally don’t get that same sense of wonder and exhilaration that I do with the other types of beauty that I’ve described, but there are some scientific theories or designs of experiment or results you get that are just neat and fit perfectly and that does overlap with a sense of beauty, and I suspect that’s, say, how mathematicians describe particular theories of beauty. They just fit in a in a perfect sort of way.  

Part of it is to do with we could call it ‘exploiting’ or at least ‘tapping into’ perceptual processes that have evolved for other reasons. So one can imagine that symmetry, for example, is often perceived as  beautiful in patterns, and I think it’s quite a long stretch to link that to the research on symmetry in bodily or facial proportions which people have argued might be an indicator of genetic quality, or at least developmental stability. I think when I’m looking at a piece of abstract art which has planes of symmetry or a Persian rug which is maybe not exactly symmetrical, but looks pretty symmetrical – that’s I very much doubt that’s tapping into any of my evolved preferences, or preferences I’ve developed, in finding a woman attractive, say. It may relate to efficiency of coding. Julien Renoult would argue that it’s tapping into sparse coding and symmetry certainly can be coded efficiently ’cause you only need to encode half the pattern – so that might be part of it. Discussions about golden sections and particular proportions in art are probably tapping into aspects of how we process the natural world. Certainly, the idea of sparse coding links to the sorts of patterns we see in many natural forms, where there’s sort of scaling, variance and repetition. So that that’s where I think the link would be. It’s tapping into ways we process sensory information which have evolved for other reasons than looking at artwork or listening to music, but they have that effect nevertheless. 

It’d be quite a job to establish what the links are. You know in a similar way that our brains can do calculus and that your brain did not evolve to be able to do calculus. But there are ways about how it’s wired up that allows us to process that sort of mathematical abstraction.

I think it’s deeply interesting because I want to explain nature and why things are as they are, including humans. I think it’s deeply interesting and therefore I find it important. I mean, I think it could be important for practical reasons, in that if you flip to the other side of the coin: certainly some patterns visually, and I daresay types of music, cause distress. They’re disharmonious and we find them irritating and in some cases it can be pathological, where you know particular frequency can evoke an epileptic fit. And there is an established phenomenon of visual discomfort whereby various types of patterns and spatial frequencies we find them unpleasant to look at so that could have practical significance in urban design, say. 

Unless you’re actually researching the aesthetics of beauty I don’t think it’s what science is for by large. It’s an important part of the business of science in as far as it helps motivate the people doing the science and it helps get other people interested in the science that they’re doing.

It’s certainly a powerful motivation for people to do [science], so understanding what can excite you about science might have practical significance in terms of education. If you want to pull more people or people of particular demographics into science, then understanding what it is about science that’s appealing or appealing to some people and not others would help.

Part of it is to do with we could call it ‘exploiting’ or at least ‘tapping into’ perceptual processes that have evolved for other reasons. So one can imagine that symmetry, for example, is often perceived as  beautiful in patterns, and I think it’s quite a long stretch to link that to the research on symmetry in bodily or facial proportions which people have argued might be an indicator of genetic quality, or at least developmental stability. I think when I’m looking at a piece of abstract art which has planes of symmetry or a Persian rug which is maybe not exactly symmetrical, but looks pretty symmetrical – that’s I very much doubt that’s tapping into any of my evolved preferences, or preferences I’ve developed, in finding a woman attractive, say. It may relate to efficiency of coding. Julien Renoult would argue that it’s tapping into sparse coding and symmetry certainly can be coded efficiently ’cause you only need to encode half the pattern – so that might be part of it. Discussions about golden sections and particular proportions in art are probably tapping into aspects of how we process the natural world. Certainly, the idea of sparse coding links to the sorts of patterns we see in many natural forms, where there’s sort of scaling, variance and repetition. So that that’s where I think the link would be. It’s tapping into ways we process sensory information which have evolved for other reasons than looking at artwork or listening to music, but they have that effect nevertheless. 

It’d be quite a job to establish what the links are. You know in a similar way that our brains can do calculus and that your brain did not evolve to be able to do calculus. But there are ways about how it’s wired up that allows us to process that sort of mathematical abstraction.

I think it’s deeply interesting because I want to explain nature and why things are as they are, including humans. I think it’s deeply interesting and therefore I find it important. I mean, I think it could be important for practical reasons, in that if you flip to the other side of the coin: certainly some patterns visually, and I daresay types of music, cause distress. They’re disharmonious and we find them irritating and in some cases it can be pathological, where you know particular frequency can evoke an epileptic fit. And there is an established phenomenon of visual discomfort whereby various types of patterns and spatial frequencies we find them unpleasant to look at so that could have practical significance in urban design, say.

Unless you’re actually researching the aesthetics of beauty I don’t think it’s what science is for by large. It’s an important part of the business of science in as far as it helps motivate the people doing the science and it helps get other people interested in the science that they’re doing.

It’s certainly a powerful motivation for people to do [science], so understanding what can excite you about science might have practical significance in terms of education. If you want to pull more people or people of particular demographics into science, then understanding what it is about science that’s appealing or appealing to some people and not others would help.

I think there’s beauty in anything if you look hard enough. My work specifically? I think studying the natural world and discovering basic truths about the universe is beautiful – maybe not in the aesthetic sense, but I think it’s a beautiful project. The systems I study are appearing at an emergent level of complexity. Life is one level of complexity, but so is chemistry and physics, just at lower levels, so I think by studying any kind of science, or at least the science I’m studying now, is tapping into a specific slice of complexity in the universe, which I think it’s beautiful to be able to see. 

I think the things I’m looking at are just a bit like a window into some kind of deeper underlying principles for me. I study ants and I’m not – I do think ants are cool, but I’m not crazy about ants, not that crazy. It feels bigger than to me than just ants, you know? It’s like some underlying principles can probably apply across scales maybe from physics upwards. So, life, consciousness… Who knows?

Something which I find beautiful, quite regularly it gets me, is when I think about the fractal nature of life and ants are an organized system but the organization applies across scales. It’s like really amazing to me when I think about that. The organization of atoms leading to coordination molecules to cells and then from cells to individuals and even individuals to a whole ant colony. I see that in ants, but also just trees, they’re quite obviously fractal. So that’s something I see as beautiful.

Social interactions between [ants], I think that’s really beautiful. Just seeing how components of a system are interacting. Recently I’ve been looking at their nest architecture as well and whenever I get these images from a CT scan and you can see the three-dimensional architecture, there’s something so intrinsically beautiful about that structure which is being made by something and which I’m able to access. Even from an aesthetic aspect they’re [beautiful]

I think just by doing science on something, you’re just by nature looking very, very hard and deeply at something. And that in itself can reveal some beauty and maybe you find something out about that as well and that can be beautiful as well. But maybe there’s two things there.

If I was just looking at an Excel spreadsheet. It’s not something I would find beautiful. But when you get to a point where you can visualize it, maybe you can see a nice curve or – that would be the most boring form of visualization, to be honest, if you’re just looking at like a box plot or a curve of what some behavior’s doing over time  -that can be beautiful, definitely exciting and yeah, it may be beautiful. And then, you know, you can definitely get more interesting visualizations, which I suppose they’re just tapping into – you know, there are other ways of visualizing what is going on in our system and they can definitely be beautiful, for sure. 

I look at data quite broadly. I would consider what I was talking about before – the chambers of ants’ nests – I think that’s a form of data, even if you haven’t properly quantified it.

It’s tricky because the work I’m doing now, ironically, is very much, oriented towards applicability in conservation. It’s something like building a tool, a way of understanding what we can do to understand population collapse in nature… Which is something I like, but I don’t know if I would describe that [beauty] feeling that I was talking about before in this particular project. Whilst still the observation of some species of my model study, which is protists -in that part, in that bit of the work, checking the stocks, making them grow, and just looking at them being, is still something that gives me that burst. So in that part, the observation and the recognition of which species is which and what are they doing? Feeling my model study [organisms] as a being in itself, it has a beauty in it. And the more applicable part of actually using the machines or the microscope is something I like, but I don’t know if it’s something more rational, let’s say. – Which is a different kind of good feeling when you do it, or when you’re understanding how it works, or when you mastered the craft, let’s say. I don’t know if I would define that what I do by day today is beautiful though.

It depends how we define data because there is some beautifulness in a study that brings you to, for example, a big plot with data and you understand those data and those data that follows a pattern, let’s say a line, is just beautiful – sometimes. But I like more the beauty of the information itself more than like a physical representation of the data. I know many friends of mine or people that like it more than me, they say “look at this beautiful plot.” – OK, it’s good. The colors are pretty, of course, but it’s the information behind it – which, coming from a background in which much information is “This animal does this” – and you don’t really look at it on a plot. It’s just like, I think I fell in love with this, with ecology and zoology in general, because it used to be 200 years ago an observation-based science. People were just there in nature, looking and writing, “OK, the parrots are doing this” – and you don’t need a plot to see that – that information is beautiful. The possibility of sharing that when the next time you walk in the forest and use that power, you can tell your friend that you know that that parrot is going to do it and then it does it– and that is what I find, the information part of the data, much better than the representation 

[beauty is in] different parts and they’re acting on different layers … the ones that stand out first, it’s just I’ve always been fascinated by ants like. It’s how they they work together as a group. There’s pictures of me, like 7 years old, lying on the street, not the payment – on the street, because on the edge from the street to the pavement there was an Ant colony and I was observing them for hours and, yeah, I think, many people say nature is beautiful in some way or form, and to me that’s especially true for ants. 

And then I think the second layer is. The ideas about the ants. Like how successful they have become ecologically, how they manage to function as a group? – To be that successful? Just these overall ideas. From one ant is so strong then that many ants and somehow they work together. Yeah, I think that’s also a beautiful aspect and the science we’re doing in our team is trying to understand that. And so just looking at different aspects of their social life and seeing why that’s working, it’s the way.

… I wouldn’t have an ant tattoo of anything that I would think that’s just not beautiful. So yes, I have no problem looking at ants for hours.

[in the lab ] the nature of the ants is not changed, even though you change their environment to something very artificial. I think I always take a bit too much time in feeding my ants, which is like. “Oh I’m putting the sugar water, and suddenly there’s few ants with the sugar-water and like, I just have to look how they suck up the sugar water and run back. Then suddenly there’s two more ants coming – you know, there’s a trail and yeah, I think I could be more efficient, but I always have to quickly check, “how are you doing?”

I do feel like I see beauty in my work – I work in experimental physics, and there is a beauty to the microscale design of items that I work on, as well as in finding data and presenting this (graphs etc.). 

3.Has this been especially important at any point in your career? (For example attracting you to science, during studies, in your early career or later on) Is it especially important at any point in the research cycle? (inspiring research, planning, carrying out, analysing, communicating)

If I hadn’t done maths or physics, I don’t think I’d find them beautiful, but at the same time I did maths and physics because I found them beautiful – when I was in high school and I was doing maths subjects and whatever, I was attracted to them, like I was drawn to them, like they were very simple as far as I’m concerned now, but at the time I thought they were really cool, and I’ve just built on that and now I see things that I’d have never been able to see as a high school student and think they’re really…. If I look at quantum mechanics, I think that’s awesome. Whereas as a high school student I couldn’t – I mean, I could understand the concepts, but not in the same way as I do now. Like my understanding of what is beautiful has changed over time.

In my undergraduate I was very driven to do as well as I possibly could. Just for the sake of doing as well as I possibly could. It was more of an egotistical thing, but now I do it just because I really enjoy it and I think that’s a different viewpoint. I don’t care about, like, being the best researcher or whatever anymore. I just do it ’cause I find it really interesting and exciting. Yeah, whereas before my motivations were different. So I guess now I see things in it differently than I did before. Before it was a competition and now it’s just something I really enjoy.

My route into science had has two foundations. One was I’ve always loved animals from being very small, so I’ve had a general interest in the natural world. And second, I like solving problems, so science satisfies that need in me and that’s something, I wouldn’t necessarily go as far as saying it’s a sense of beauty, but a sense of great satisfaction when you’ve got a problem and you can solve it.

[With animals] I think it’s similar in the sense of curiosity and understanding why nature is the way it is or particular animals are the way they are has that link to wanting then to answer that that question and being intrigued. I do sometimes wonder what I would have done if I hadn’t become a biologist, ’cause I never really had a serious Plan B. 

[Becoming a biologist changed the way that I interact with my interest in animals] At one level, trivial but important, it gave me an excuse to do what I enjoy. It’s quite nice to discover that people will pay you to do something that you would do anyway. Well, I wouldn’t do administration of my own accord, but investigating nature and actually trying to get other people interested in it -teaching – are things I would enjoy doing even if I wasn’t paid for them, so it’s rather nice to be in a job where you can do that.

Understanding evolutionary biology and behavioral ecology certainly has had some sort of influence in starting a family, in that, one minute, you’re lecturing about parent offspring conflict, and the next minute you’re experiencing it, and I genuinely find it can help you know with crying baby – “I know why you’re doing that”, you know, and if I can identify that there isn’t actually a medical problem, I’m not going to get worked up about it because I know you’re trying to manipulate me to give you more investment than is perhaps optimal for me. And equally, once you’ve got two kids, and they start to squabble over things and competing. But I understand that ’cause I understand why begging chicks compete for the attentions of their parents. 

[My fascination with animals] guided me down one particular route in biology. I think when I started my degree there are many areas of biology or at least of zoology that I’d have been quite happy doing and it was the result of some particularly inspiring lectures in my second year, by Nick Davis, on behavioral ecology, I thought, “that’s exactly the sorts of biology I like doing”. And part of it was, you know, his typical lecture would start with a theory with some mathematical underpinning, so you know it wasn’t just a verbal argument, it was a solidly grounded theory, then a really clever experiment that would test that theory. And then you had an answer. That’s such a nice way of doing things.

[That overlaps with a sense of beauty] in the sense of neat solutions and things just fitting. I think, that’s part of that constellation of emotions that relates to a sense of beauty.

For me the most enjoyable part is coming up with the experiment or the data that you need to collect to crack the problem. After that I mean, ‘mundane’ sounds too bad, but I mean then actually doing it and collecting the data, it’s important and it could be rewarding if it involves, you know, going outside into nature. But the intellectually satisfying bit, and for me, the exciting part is, thinking “yeah, that’s the experiment that would do it”. After that it’s a matter of collecting the data. You know, if you’re lucky it works out the way you expect it, if not, well, it was a nice idea but it was wrong. And then writing up and publishing it… That’s the least important part, really, I mean, I enjoy giving talks, writing up papers is alright, but it’s not… It provides no strong emotional sense of satisfaction, far less beauty.

I tend to think that if it’s a neat enough idea, it’s easy to communicate. I mean, I suppose that does link to mathematicians’ idea of beauty – that simplicity is part of the appeal, you know. If you can explain something with a simple model rather than something fiendishly complicated, that’s what’s satisfying. 

You know, I think that for me personally, that sense of beauty has been pivotal throughout. I think it’s definitely true that, that sense of beauty is definitely linked to a strong, passionate feeling of wanting to do something proactively positive and engaging in that. So I suppose that’s from a very early career stage, of wanting to just learn more and then as you sort of build into that, then wanting to do more once you’ve learned how you can. And that’s, I suppose the constant in that I guess it depends on personal motivation as well. 

You can enjoy something and you know you can enjoy the beauty in something just because it’s enjoyable. But I think that that’s definitely the case in terms of learning from, – I grew up in central and West Africa and so was exposed to marine systems a lot from a young age and so definitely had an exposure to the beauty of a natural system like that from a very young age before anything to do with my impact or my integration into it was, you know, was relevant. And then as I got older, definitely more in terms of how do I perhaps invest in protecting that beauty? Or how do I learn more about it? Or how do I find a way of getting other people to connect with that sense of beauty? And I think that’s something that has been a constant through my academic development. …but I think that it goes back to that that motivation to actually want to still have some sort of positive impact, which I know we could go into and that’s probably not relevant, but just wanting to have some positive impact because of the personal meaning that comes into that sense of beauty and then wanting to find a way of making that valuable for other people, I suppose. 

I think initially, there’s perhaps an innocence in how you appreciate something without a real understanding of the threat towards that. You know, especially for talking about a natural ecosystem, I definitely see that as something beautiful, just in and of itself. But most ecosystems in the marine environments are hugely threatened by lots of different anthropogenic stresses, and that’s partly, you know, that’s something that I suppose where you can see the fragility, you can see the damage done with time. Or the loss of complete ecosystems in and of themselves and I think that definitely impacts your sense of beauty in a space,I think especially if we’re talking about – some of the work I do is on coral reefs and coral reefs have experienced huge changes in the ecosystems to the point where if I was to snorkel from when I was six, down a coral reef, and if I go back to that exact same location and swim it now, it’s unrecognizable, and I think the beauty in that – you can see the level of change and damage. And therefore, I guess the value doesn’t go away of the place, but its beauty is palpably different in the sense that you can see how much has been destroyed. 

it couldn’t be a constant in the sense that when I was an undergrad I did a lot of field work and I absolutely loved it. I had a really nice context to do it in and because I was undergrad I didn’t have to think about the questions. If they told me “catch X amount of frogs”, I’ll go catch X amount frogs and bring them back. That was a lot of fun. But more ‘fun’ than anything, I think. Although I’ve had some really profound moments of beauty, really, in those times. Mainly doing field work because I felt that it’s usually the most raw contact that you can have with – ‘nature’, to call it something. 

Then I was thinking that during my PhD I did a lot of molecular biology, and in that I didn’t have that many moments of excitement and “oh this is cool, this is beautiful”. – Except when I was looking at embryos on the microscope, and I could spend hours looking at embryos in the microscope. That definitely was an experience of beauty. And now working more on the computing side, I can still find beauty in algorithms or whatever. ‘beauty’ is a bit – I’m not sure that I would classify it as beauty or more like, something that impresses you, awe-inspiring, I’d say, “oh wow!”. And not everything that inspires awe is actually beauty, in my view. But it’s always been a background, I feel it when I haven’t been exposed to natural beauty for a while. I have to be exposed in some way, – turn some rocks over and see what’s underneath.

I think beauty can be awe-inspiring, but at least to me it’s not the only awe-inspiring thing. I would find awe in complexity, order… Solutions, concepts, ideas, I mean, even in knowing a person, knowing them a bit further, and you realise this person is like an entirely completely new universe. That I mean to me is awe-inspiring. And these are all things that, to me at least, keep the world a lot more interesting. Beauty also as well. 

I don’t know how poetic I can get, but it’s me sitting in any forest and just like soaking it in, it’s beautiful. That is a beautiful experience that I feel like always in the chest. Or in the tummy, depends on the context. But then the thing with the final beautiful object for me is that it’s a very subjective definition. So it might not align with what other people think. But then, sorry to separate with awe-inspiring: awe-inspiring things for me can be technical. Well, usually won’t be beautiful. I will just think, “wow, it’s amazing” but it’s not necessarily beautiful. I would draw a bit the line there with, for example, an algorithmic solution to the problem would be awe-inspiring, maybe not necessarily beautiful. I could see how other people can see it as beautiful. I personally view it as mainly awe-inspiring. But again, it’s not a clear line, I would find beautiful things in it. I don’t know, technically clever – clever stuff is interesting.

I don’t find science beautiful to be honest. I mean the whole method, the whole way to do it. I don’t identify with it personally, culturally, but it just brings me closer to nature. So that was my way to cheat the system,

If I can start asking questions about evolution that are super deep and I can start thinking, it’s giving me so much more depth than to just like look at organisms. Then, I don’t think like this every time ’cause it would overload my brain – but every Organism that’s living now, it’s literally a record of, what, two point whatever billion years of evolution in their genome. Basically responding to any and all challenges that we can imagine at the moment and worse – and we’re all here alive. That insight I would not have had, and that is one of the most wonderful things that I have come to realize – I would not have had that if I had  not done research in genome evolution. So in that sense, the science itself, and the method, to translate Nature’s knowledge into human knowledge. I don’t find it necessarily beautiful. I mean even that phrase already makes it really dull. But it does enable me to understand things that are insanely beautiful. Infinitely beautiful for me. Just to see them and to live them and to understand them. Just understanding that has been an experience of beauty.

I would not have understood that if I hadn’t done my PhD essentially. So that for me is really important. And in the same way that that when I worked in the rainforests in quasi-Amazonian rivers, just looking at the diversity there is insane. And I only was able to do that because I was helping someone or doing some research project and being in the field in some way or other. So really for me it’s tool to get into that.

I think this only became more relevant to me when I got to do my own research and discover things about science for myself, as opposed to being taught it at school. At school, I would see it as interesting but maybe not appreciate it in the same as if it was something beautiful. Within the cycle of research, it’s probably most important to me in inspiring research, in science communication and in the analysis stages. 

Has beauty always been a driver for my scientific endeavor? I’m not sure that that has been the case. I might have been much more “OK, I need to get this data. I don’t really like it. I’m not sure it’s going to show me much, but I just want it or somebody wants me to want it.” And that transition to become an independent researcher, I think came with this freedom to do stuff that I consider beautiful or interesting. 

When we started on this whole moth biology project seven years ago. Well, there is literally tens of thousands of species out there that we could have worked with and we chose a group that is special because it’s so beautiful. There is a link there that is just a supply problem – if you want to get these specimens, you need to have a supply chain. And because humans consider them beautiful, there is a global community of moth breeders that raise these so we can actually purchase them every week. There are some of them available on the market, so there is a very practical element where beauty, the beauty of these animals had given us a platform to work with. But there also was our active choice to work with them because they’re so beautiful and we just like to have them around. Last week I had a new species emerge, brought my practical project students down there, and they were just awed, because it’s just such a stunningly beautiful creature, and I’d offered them loads of different projects but they wanted to work with this one, because they like working with it because it’s so beautiful. I can show you – you’ll understand immediately. In a sense, we are also using it as a tool to educate our undergrads, just exposing them to beautiful things and then giving them the opportunity to do some science with them and be motivated by their beauty. 

[As a student] I worked with bats, and bats are not necessarily beautiful. They’re a little brownish, but they’re conceptually beautiful and pure because they’re flying mammals that can also echolocate, which makes them adapted to extreme physics in so many ways. I think the design that went into them – the evolutionary tricks or the adaptive tricks that they have implemented all over their body, it’s an infinite well of amazement. And in that, it is beautiful, you’ve got a brown bat but, hey, it has tiny little hairs on its wing and they do amazing stuff and if you shave them they can’t fly anymore and they do funny flight maneuvers which are a bit cruel. That’s beautiful! I would find myself on my field course to Costa Rica and there’s stuff out there – you can see army ants and leafcutter ants interacting in the field. And you can just see their behavior and how they fight. In this regard, I would always say look at how beautiful that behavior is. That’s beauty. That’s not something you can describe in any other way.

I would tell my post grad students that they have come up with a beautifully designed experiment, if it’s nicely balanced, it covers all the controls. You can see beauty in a design for an experiment, even if you don’t know how it works or whether the experiment is done on a beautiful or a non-beautiful organism. I can see you can find beauty there. Of course you can see data coming in and you see a pattern emerging where, which might or might not confirm, but if it’s a clear pattern, there’s a beauty in that. And then you have to utilize beauty to sell it as we talked about. I think you can probably have beauty as a driver in pretty much every stage. You need to know the hard work and the facts but when it all comes together like a masterpiece, and if you do it right, it will be beautiful. God, we’re getting very philosophical. 

Yes, the beauty of science drove me to be a scientist. I was 9-years old when I asked my Science teacher in primary school if she did pedagogy or any other degree. By that time, I was already in love with science. I considered it beautiful because was the first time I had the opportunity to understand how things were classified, the differences between distinct realms, and how different organisms are interlinked. Trying to better define it, I would say that the beauty of science, when I started, was the fact that I saw it (science) as a pathway to fulfil my curiosities and better understand how nature works. Later in my career, seeing beauty in Science was particularly important for me to keep myself motivated and go through difficult times in my PhD and postdoc positions.  From my personal perspective, the problem of being passionate and seeing beauty in science is that many times I had the feeling of being taken for granted in terms of my involvement and/or doing the research even if work conditions were not the most suitable (both physically and emotionally). Besides those specific situations, I consider that seeing beauty in science was crucial for me to keep trying and feeling inspired and motivated to be a scientist.

I’m not very experimental, I’m much more into bringing things together and seeing how pattern falls out of it. I’ve never been particularly good at setting up experiments.

We’re a molecular biology group. And you know a lot of things is just getting a lot of sequence data or genotyping data and just plowing through that and the beauty of that, if beauty is the correct word, is when you can put something into a little program and a pattern falls out of it. Well, that’s really quite amazing that is. Or you can follow something through time. You can spot the development of a wheat plant. You can see where this gene’s gone and then you can tie that into other things. That’s fascinating and like I say, if it’s fascinating, then there’s some sort of element of beauty in there.

I enjoy producing the figures and trying to make an image capture the idea so you can just look at the image and you’re getting some idea what’s going on. So I think I’m actually quite visual like that, and I do enjoy that side of it. I’m a little bit simple, so I think I would probably find the things that are intrinsically beautiful themselves. Like I say, if I look down a microscope and you can get some of those images there, well, that’s really amazing. And I’m probably being switched on by “well, that’s just totally amazing”. You can see this, you can see that. And obviously there’s got to be some theory behind that because I’m a biologist and you’ve got to have some theory to understand it. But I’m probably responding to a more superficial level than somebody who’s really…. [“intellectual”]

Obviously certain things you require some amount of knowledge to appreciate the beauty of it though perhaps. It’s like in anything    if you like jazz perhaps. I’m not a particular liker of jazz, but obviously you need some knowledge to appreciate that, and I’m sure that’s the same with some science. You’ve got to have a certain preparation for you to actually appreciate that. And if you can’t appreciate it, you probably can’t see the beauty of it. So in that sense, yes, there must be a progression in my ability to see beauty because the more knowledge you’ve got, perhaps the more ability you’ve got to appreciate beauty. But I think I’ve always had that sort of gut feeling response to the beauty of it.

I started out being a botanist and doing a degree in botany because I wasn’t particularly scientific, and I liked the simple beauty of plants, which you don’t need a lot of intellectual input to. What I’m saying is a bit yes and no. I appreciate that some of the things I can appreciate now more because I’ve got a better knowledge, but I think my response still tends to be that sort of gut feeling response of “that’s really amazing” rather than it’s the intellectual side I’m bringing out 

I can’t say that beauty has been motivating me… – perhaps it has to some extent, ’cause you go on and you do the same job ’cause you must find something interesting in it. I don’t know if that’s the beauty of it. 

If you sort of start following an idea or you start doing something. I suppose to get to the end and see the pattern that falls out is the motivation for doing that. Like I said, I’m not particularly lab orientated, but if I am in the lab. I’m not excited about what I’m doing there. I’m excited about the pattern or the image that will come out at the end of it.

Looking into microscope,– all that preparatory work is tedious. You get to the microscope and you’re scanning around it and it’s all tedious, then you suddenly hit, you suddenly get a chromosome spread! And you think, yeah. And then there is this sort of. Yeah, it’s almost an adrenaline hit, you think “Wow! that’s great!!”

I suppose in that way then it is [a motivator] because like I say, some of the preparatory work I find so tedious and I’m not very good at it. It’s just “oh God. I’m doing this” and then, but once you get to the microscope, you get in the dark, you’re sitting at the microscope and you  see what you’re looking for or you and something “Wow, that’s just truly amazing!” and you go upstairs and say “oh come and look at this!”

I’ve always worked for people rather than doing my own research so that preparatory thing, coming up with the ideas in the first place, is not my sort of forte.

I think I’ve always had this like interest in biology. Uhm, especially in ants. I’m not sure why and part of that interest could just be like, oh, I think it’s beautiful. So I had that for sure as a kid, and then probably not as much during high school and then when I started my studies… 

[the experience of beauty, ] I think it’s whenever I work with , with ants, with the actual organism, not just sitting at the computer. It’s like, you know, it’s feeling good. Like, oh, that’s good. Why should I do something else. I remember well, when I was first feeding my, at like first feeding session during my PhD, I was like, oh, and I even get some money for feeding ants. Yeah, just observing them.

I’m not sure if it’s connected to beauty, but it’s always like you have some kind of question you want to answer and you’ll invest a lot of work and suddenly there is the answer. Maybe it’s the way you’re expecting it to be, or the other way around, or you just know nothing. If you finally have your answer after all these hours you put in. Yeah, it’s just very satisfying and I think that could also be some kind of beauty, I guess just beautiful and finally answer the question, you know, we know something more that we didn’t know before. Even though whatever you found may not be so beautiful. So like, ants being infected by bee viruses is, that’s not something that I was like, “Oh, yes!”. But it was, “oh, yes, we have the answer, yes, they are”. And then, you’ll get that even you know you can get it published and it’s like an appreciation for the work, but that’s not really – I’m not sure if I can turn that into beauty or not, but it’s just the things that stand out at the end of the work. Yes, that’s something.

Definitely, as I’ve gotten older and progressed in education and life, I think I have more and deeper experiences of beauty generally, and I think that comes from understanding for how things work, you know if you don’t know that atoms or cells make up what we are, then you can’t really see that aspect of beauty so easily. It’s the same thing, I’ve just learned more as I’ve gotten older and the more understanding I have about the universe, I think the easier it has become for me to see beauty.

I think beauty isn’t my main motivation. I’m always trying to see beauty in some way and I think that is actually a very important aspect of life, cause you can find even quite depressing moments beautiful. And I think if you’re equipped to be able to do that then it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing with your life. So I guess that’s constantly a goal I’m trying to strive towards, to just have more beautiful states of mind. And see the world through a lens – which I don’t think is rose tinted: I think it is actually a more fundamentally true lens.

It is interesting because for science, I have a motivation to do it which is for helping the world. Probably what I’m doing now is completely useless, so maybe the motivation is beauty, but I would say it’s a means to other scientific careers which might be more helpful. I haven’t systematized in my brain that beauty is the main objective for me doing science. I think that’s something which is amazing about science and probably why I enjoy it so much, but…

A lot of the time, my main motivation for doing science and how I ended up where I am is just because I really enjoy it. And probably one of the main reasons I really enjoy it is because I find it beautiful. I had an option when I was in college of doing the route of becoming a doctor, which is probably the default route if you’re a reasonably educated middle class kid, but in the end I decided that I just wanted to do biology ’cause I think it’s cool. I didn’t think about beauty at a time, but I think it probably is a reason I found it cool.

During my PhD I’ve experiments, they definitely didn’t feel very involved with beauty explicitly. It felt like that was the way the science is going, so it should probably just go that way, that’s my next step, so I should do it. But having said that, I think some of my new, current projects I’m working on – the main one definitely, from the beginning actually part of it was the beauty aspect and just what I think is something which could be really cool and beautiful. Honestly, I found it so much more exciting to work on this project. For this project, even from the get-go, I was looking at the analysis of these 2D shapes and then – oh, you can look like for fractal dimension and that’s amazing. I guess that’s data which is quantifying something beautiful that you see. So I think probably into the future, if I was to be a career scientist, that would be the main motivation. But earlier in my PhD I’d just been put into experiments, I suppose. I think a lot of scientists don’t have an explicit sense of designing projects for beauty. Maybe it’s jaded to think that they are just doing it to get the next paper out and progress along the rat race.

Definitely it was [important] at the start of the career. It was the pushing force that knows “hey, let’s keep going on this path, let’s keep doing this research and understanding things” because I like it, because it’s beautiful, because when I put my hands in the mouth and I take it out and it’s full of larvae of dragon flies, it’s just beautiful to watch them swimming and grow. Continuing the career is something else, it’s maybe it’s becoming more weak because of course it’s your day-to-day life and you do change a bit the view to OK, now I have to write papers. I have to find funding. I think what keeps you going is two things: One is the habit that you build because we are habit based animals, and so at some point it’s like, OK, my daily life is this. But sometimes, at least for me, habit even if it’s strong is not enough. You need some burst of that beauty-ness, of that magic that you started with. And so it was more important at the beginning, yes. And now it is less and less because habit is coming in. But sometimes you need it. You need to stop for a second and think OK, Why am I doing this? I still feel that that force that is that passion, is pushing me.

I think if possible, there should be a same portion of [beauty] in all phases [of research]. Because when you plan it you can feel that happiness of hey, let’s see how it goes. Let’s plan it and then perform it. I don’t know about while you perform it, because now I’m just anxious of the experiment working, I just hope it goes well. I think the communication part maybe is where you have to feel it. You have to share and so you have to feel it more because it’s what passes to the other people. Like, “hey, this guy is enthusiastic about what he’s saying, so it must be something beautiful behind it. “

I guess there’s a real beauty to the ideas that you learn about in science, so I’m thinking as an undergraduate kind of what I found particularly interesting. You know, maybe there’s just an inherent beauty to interest in a way. There’s a way plants grow persistently from pools of stem cells, which is very different to animals grow and you maintain these meristematic pools. These divide, divide, divide and continue to produce organs through their life. And that’s, you know, very different to how we live and there’s. And that kind of concept of persistent stem cells I thought was very beautiful. That, I guess drove my interest in continuing to study doing a PhD. Yeah, I mean the reason I do research is ‘cause I’m fundamentally interested in the topic and I want to find out more about it. I think it’s kind of teasing apart of the beauty element of that sensation is tricky. If you’re interested in something, is that just because you appreciate the beauty of it? or is it a slightly different kind of feeling really?

I think in an interest how the world works there is a beauty to that. I mean, it’s maybe it’s a kind of arrogant human kind of anthropomorphic way of looking the world that you’re interested in something therefore it must be beautiful.

When people present their data, there’s a real – that’s I guess the most apparent beauty that I’ve experienced most regularly. You know a really nice “in situ” [which is when] you cut a plant in thin section and you stain it and see where the genes are expressed and you know if someone’s done that well, that can look really really pretty. Or images of gene expression with fluorescent proteins from the confocal. You know it does look really, really pretty. It’s pretty because it’s visually impressive. It’s pretty because you think, well, right, now I know where that protein expressed, and that’s amazing.

I mean it’s bright colours in a nice pattern, but it’s like also “OK wow, so that’s how that biological system is organised.”

I guess probably more, a stronger sense of it at the start than at the end so if you’re writing a grant proposal, for example: ”This is what I wanna do”, you gotta sit down and think more deeply about really the ideas you’re interested in and how to tackle them and that, I guess it’s, if I’m thinking about beauty that happens in sheer knowledge of this awe – that’s where the real awe stage is, you know, this is what I want to tackle, this is the beauty of the world that I’m interested in. And it’s harder to find beauty in the day-to-day grind of doing molecular biology, I think naturally, just more distracted by doing things right and not making mistakes, and it’s harder to think of the bigger picture and then at the end when actually putting things together and looking at all you’ve done and presenting it in a way that’s interesting then beauty probably comes back again.

For me. I mean, I guess the beauty per se is not the main motivator, and I guess I want to find out: Experiments I’m doing at the moment, so I want to find out how important certain genes are in the evolution of plants. And I do that because I think it’s fascinating and I’m interested in the outcome. I don’t know if it’s beauty in that. I mean, there’s a beauty to evolution, kind of overriding, but I’ve got a more narrow focus, just perhaps on the mechanism of it rather than the overall beauty of it, and I guess you kind of focus more on the beauty when you’re putting it together at the end and saying, trying to persuade other people of the merits of what you’re doing.

I think if you work in science it’s hard work and it’s very competitive and it’s often very difficult to progress and it’s good for the community as a whole, I think, if people are excited by what they do, because if no one’s kind of “wow”, really why do you do it in the first place? So it’s important to kind of contribute to that culture of research in that sense. About the selfish effects, I mean you struggle to get grants, you’re not gonna get grants if you can’t convince people there is a beauty to your work – it’s just very straightforward and isn’t kind of stand-out I suppose. Unless it’s super translational, you know this is this very boring thing: this molecular mechanism will improve crop yields by 10%, right but? If you’re trying to do something a bit more basic, unless people are reading the grant proposal for example, or see you give a seminar, and don’t think fundamentally ‘wow, that’s cool’. Well, they could think “oh, that person a very good scientist and they do things methodically”, but I don’t think that’s going to necessarily help you progress in your career as much as you do work, and it’s well done, but it’s also like, “wow, that’s – beautiful”

I think that because nature in general is something that I get a lot of joy from and I really – observing nature – connecting with that beauty is a really important part of my own sense of well-being and connection to the world, that’s always a motivating thing, that’s always a sort of ‘I do this work because it allows me to be an environment and to experience it’, and I think that has always been something that’s driven me. When I decided to pursue a research career, just the thought of being able to do field work as part of my job was a hugely motivating factor.  I suppose at the kind of inception stage, when thinking about what question do you want to answer and why? That’s where it can really come into play. Because there’s so much possibility you have to decide. You’ve got to narrow it down to a specific research question, ’cause research questions are so constrained within their specific thing that they’re looking at. So you’re taking this thing which is vast and trying to hone it down into one little thing. So that being inspired, experiencing the beauty of that, to decide on one little thing. And yeah, when I suppose then you get into your process. You’re kind of following through these are the steps that we do: First it’s go collect the data and then we analyze it. And you can perhaps lose it a little bit along the way because you’re getting caught up in the process. And then when it comes to the end, I think then, for me at least, then I have that moment where I step back again and go “Oh yeah, this is why we did this” as part of this bigger picture. But probably mostly [I experience beauty] at the beginning and the end more than anything.

I will take this question to mean what is the value in this beauty. I have already touched before about how motivating it can be for me in research – the satisfaction of working on a beautiful system perhaps to the naked eye or at microscopic levels! I have to admit, working on the model plant Arabidopsis, perhaps the most boring of all the plants, is certainly less motivating for me than a beautiful unfolding (but also slow growing and tricky!) tree fern for example.Yet for me the real value of beauty is the emotional connection it allows us to form with this being/object/system. We like to think as scientists that maybe we are above emotion – cold statistics and numbers is the only thing that will influence us. But we, and certainly the rest of the population, don’t truly function like that! This is no secret in conservation programs where charismatic pandas or exotically colourful parrots are used as poster boys to get funding for more critically endangered or ecologically important mosses or worms. 

The bottom line is people are invested in things more when they understand them better. The more funding and research we can get into revealing and sharing some of the closely guarded secrets of more discreet life on earth, I believe the more effort will be put into protecting it.

This applies further than conservation too I think! Take our health – Personally, part of why I make a huge effort to stay healthy and eat right is because I appreciate the sheer complexity and intricacy of my body’s inner workings. Why would I ruin something that biologically, is so incredibly awe inspiring and near impossible? I mean it’s literally a miracle my heart keeps beating each day. I have only been able to absorb that knowledge because of countless hours of research projects that perhaps aren’t medically the most applicable but do explore the complexity and beauty of the human form. 

4. When you are discussing your work with other people (friends and family, students, colleagues or scientific community, or in public engagement), do you often talk about feelings of beauty? Do you want to? Do you ever explicitly talk about your experiences of beauty with other scientists? Do you remember any times where people have told you explicitly about their experience of beauty in science?

If I were talking to kids or to my family, I have no qualms, saying that it’s beautiful. It needs to be a safe space for me – which is odd because with completely unknown kids – It’s not necessarily a safe space, but kids are a bit more malleable, in the sense, you know, you can talk to them about something pretty and they won’t say [harsh voice] “No. Science is not pretty.”

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to communicate what I do. I’m not using enough beauty, I’m using too much awe. To be honest, I would want to use more beauty. And actually, this idea that I had recently – I intend to not translate into science, period. I intend to, if possible, make it into something artistic and just let it be, as such. I mean, I’m sure that it will inspire me to ask more questions, but the problem is that if I really try to “sciencify” it, let’s say, it will spoil it, it’s like trying to turn a poem into an equation, basically. You can do it I guess, but is it really that you’re…[doing something good]?

[When talking to colleagues] I don’t know – because I’ve changed places so much. I wouldn’t build a friendship that profoundly that I would feel at ease letting these things loose – I have to restrain myself a bit. It’s not that hard ’cause I’m used to it. I feel like not everybody is ready to talk like that. We should, absolutely be at ease. I think it’s just a very personal topic. And it’s worthwhile speaking like that to someone who actually gets it, as opposed to someone who would say “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”. So I would prefer to speak on this subject with someone with whom I know that it’s going to land well and could probably take it even further.

I’m thinking about people I know. I know for certain some people don’t [have a sense of beauty in their science work]. I mean, as certain as you can be of someone else’s opinions. I feel that if you’re really career oriented, your focus shifts away from awe and beauty, and more into practical terms and material stuff. Whereas for me, material stuff is necessary, obviously, but if I lose my appreciation for beauty in nature, I don’t think it could be a scientist. For me, that’s it really. And so I need to keep that going somewhat.

If you really want to have like a solid career and people who are focused on that particular aspect, you need to conform to the status quo in some way or the other. And in that sense, it’s easy to lose the awe and wonder that initially brought you in and I know some people that have gone so far in that path that they say “science is not what I thought it was”. I personally have been extremely lucky that I can find awe and wonder on more or less the same path. Even when I learned about academic politics, I was amazed, I thought this is so awesome. Some people don’t like this – but I thought “this is great – now it’s a lot more fun”. I like it when things gain like an additional layer of complexity, like it’s fun. 

I would say it depends on the audience, so I would say that generally, yes, I’m particularly so if I’m talking to non-scientists or even scientists who are outside of my particular research area, because you know, if you’re telling someone about something they don’t really know about and I want to sell it to them, I want them to come away feeling like ‘that was really interesting. I want to find out more about that’, so sharing that experience, and using language that is, probably talk about these things as being beautiful and I think make them care about it? And see it as being something that is worth them thinking about. Which I think a big part of, for me, of that is a feeling of concern about the natural world, a feeling that people need to be more educated, need to notice more, that people don’t understand a lot of the time the big issues that we’re facing and so trying to give people – empower people with knowledge to then actually want to find out more about something, and perhaps do something. So a lot of the time when I’m talking to people, it’ll be telling them about my research and then saying there’s stuff that you can do. So if you have a garden, or even just a windowsill, you can plant something on it and trying to then actually I mean I’m always trying to get people to do stuff to help. And I think in order to do that you have to inspire people and they have to feel like it’s something that’s beautiful and important and worthy of them making an effort to do anything.

There are so many different experiences of beauty that other people can then relate to. So if you’re talking to someone and it you turns out that they’re really into gardening, that’s a whole kind of conversation about beauty within that. There’s people that might be interested in their food or … You know there’s lots of different avenues to then be able to discuss that. Uhm, cool, so always. There’s always a way.

definitely [I speak about beauty] with my colleagues that I am close to. I think particularly colleagues who I would also class as friends, it’s something that we’re all very passionate about it. So we talk about it and we talk about our experiences of field work and also just going for a walk in your free time and then talking to someone about that experience and how it made you feel. Yeah, I probably talk about it a lot with everyone. And with colleagues slightly further out as well. I would say recently over the past six months I’ve been working on a research project which has been looking at the mental health and well-being benefits of time spent in nature. So I’ve been talking a lot about that to lots of people and that could be even if I’m maybe not talking specifically about my own personal experiences within that I’m having that conversation with other researchers, about how people experience those things.

From my experience within the ecology world, and specifically within the pollinator ecology world, but also in the wider ecology world. I think that that’s something that we talk about because I think it’s a hugely motivating factor for why most of us do this type of research. So it’s a shared experience.

Definitely I suppose if I spoke to an ecologist who sort of said “Oh no, I don’t think it’s beautiful” or “I don’t feel that, I don’t get that”, I think I would find that quite weird. And that would make me think, ‘I don’t really understand why you’re doing this work’. But that hasn’t happened, so far, I haven’t yet come across that person and I think it’s yeah, it’s a nice way to bond with people and share that experience.

Probably not in a super deep sense, but just like, oh “Isn’t this really cool?” Yeah, probably just in that sense.

I think maybe it’s just my vocabulary that something I find “cool” is something I also find “beautiful”. And maybe I would use the word ‘beautiful’ sometimes? But maybe it’s just my vocabulary, which I haven’t fully systematized that that is why I find it cool.

It’s different degrees to which you can explain the depth to what you’re doing, right? Between someone who’s in your lab group to someone who’s also a scientist to someone who’s a layperson. I feel very lucky with my PhD because I think it’s relatively accessible to most people.

I’d tell them [about] a project I’m working on – this is exciting for me. And I think it’s maybe beautiful.

I do [think it’s normal for people to express feelings of beauty] – I think it is in my field actually – and I think in biology at large actually, I think it’s pretty good. I’ve got some other friends who do different PhDs in different domains: Engineering and, it’s not so much because they feel less. I can’t speak for them, but I think they feel less experiences of beauty, definitely.

I’ve definitely had memories of other people I work with expressing beauty about something. It’s been cool and I think implicitly I’ve had experiences where you can see that the scientist is doing something which they think is really exciting and beautiful, and that’s quite inspirational for me. But whether I can remember them explicitly commenting on the beauty of it, I’m not sure.

I think [someone implicitly expressing a sense of beauty] would make me way more inclined to want to work with someone. And definitely if I was going to continue in research, I would make sure I’ve vetted the supervisor to make sure they’re genuinely excited about the science, I think that would be very important for me.

Yeah, I think that I do definitely. I get laughed at quite a lot for the keenness with which I do, but I definitely think I’m very careful with it, I don’t think I directly speak about it as ‘beauty’. I think with people outside of my work, I will talk about it much more, because I think beauty is something that we can all appreciate. We can all understand that different people find different things beautiful and that’s a sort of a baseline already and I think that that’s a great way of connecting people who find very different things beautiful. It introduces an inherent curiosity as to why someone else might find something more or less beautiful. So I think it’s a great starting point from very potentially very different careers or  backgrounds.

I don’t think they necessarily have to agree, I think they have to respect my reason – I think to feel like you’re being engaged with, I think if someone was to tell me that they don’t think that what I consider beautiful in science is remotely correct – And they have no time or inclination to explore that further. I think that’s a strong disengagement – I think I would struggle with that. But I think if someone genuinely wants to engage and they might not inherently agree, I think I’ll give it my best shot to change their mind or to explore it. And I think it’s that that’s definitely tied in with that sense of wonder, I’ve found myself very often describing the wonder of a system and in a way where I think that is worth looking at and exploring and “…isn’t that incredible?” –  in the way that I could easily just change “Isn’t that incredible” with “isn’t that beautiful?” You know, I think that that’s very interchangeable in the way 

I think it will depend, but probably most of the time [the discussion of ‘beauty’] will be implicit. I think because somewhere I’m also very aware that beauty is very subjective, and I think if I say something is beautiful, someone will have to kind of trust you on that, whereas I think what I’ll try and do is describe it and see if there’s an engagement and then I think that there’s that implicit understanding of that beauty is shared or that appreciation for that beauty is shared

To go back to your initial question of within my work environment, I think that it’s definitely even more implicit and I think that that definitely ties in with the fact that, you know, we’re very often seen or encouraged to be very objective. And so I think that that often doesn’t create a lot of space for just the personal responses we have to research that we’re doing, let alone then in a personal appreciation for the beauty of what we’re doing and that’s partly why I think this is so important because I don’t think there’s a lot of space for that. And especially as an early career researcher, you’re trying to make a positive impression with people around you, and you don’t know whether bringing in a personal note in a space that is valued for its objectivity, whether that’s going to reflect positively on you or not. So I think in that case I probably go through layers. If it’s people that I know well and they know me, I won’t filter that very much because I don’t feel I need to. And perhaps with people that I don’t know in the work environment, I might just, it’s not that I’ll hide it, but it’ll be many layers more implicit, and then perhaps with time it will, I’d express it more openly

In our research group, we’ve looked at a lot of emotional connections with the work that we do. And so I think that creates a space for an appreciation of beauty in a very different setting than otherwise. So yes, I have heard people talk implicitly and explicitly about the beauty of the science that they do. And also I think a lot of our group really value science communication, and then you have a much broader range of discussions especially working on links between scientists and artists of various kinds. And so I think then the discussion becomes very explicitly about beauty, which is really enjoyable but if you’re asking just passing through the corridor, I think it would be quite rare to hear about an explicit description of the beauty in science I think.

I think [scientists’ expression of beauty] changes the way I interact with them as I mentioned before, in my own expression of that appreciation of beauty but then also I definitely think that I connect more with them as researchers and with their work, because we don’t just connect on objective facts, actually, probably least of all. And so I think that the more you connect with an individual on many different elements of what they do – and their appreciation of beauty is one – you connect a lot more with the work that they’re doing. Because it to me, it inherently gains more meaning when they express a beauty in it that I might not understand or might not have had an appreciation for before. 

I remember talking to someone who basically models data that they haven’t collected themselves. They have a huge data set that’s brought in, and that’s very different from the work that I do (I go out and collect my own data and I’m enmeshed in that environment for a long time and then I come back and deal with it. And then there’s therefore a really strong sense of connection with the system that I’m studying because I was immersed in it.) And I think that this was a really lovely example because I initially was thinking I found it quite hard to imagine how much hard work that must be to just trawl through numbers and data and screens, to create a model. And the person said that those numbers and those models are beautiful, incredible machines and what they can answer and what they can explore is like a tapestry. I can’t remember what they did, how they described it, which is such a shame because it definitely was an explicit description of the beauty of what something like that can actually do and what all these little numbers can actually mean. And that was such a lovely humbling experience for me – it just completely flips your assumptions, and that’s definitely memorable</span

I think yes, [I talk about experiencing research as beautiful]. I think I do it implicitly by virtue of what I get over enthusiastic about or whatever and I try and not be that person who drones on and on about what they’re doing, completely oblivious to the fact that the other person is not interested. So you’ve got to be somewhat sensitive, but we all like to think that things we’re enthusiastic about, other people are too, and it’s a bit sad when you realize they’re not. You know, watching on the local news last night or all this, you know all these people who are really quite emotional and stirred up about the fact the Swindon Speedway track is being closed for three years, and it’s definitely not going to open  and you think, how is it even a defensible sport these days? Roaring round in circles on a cinder track on a polluting motorbike that makes lots of noise. But people are different, aren’t they.

I think some sense of empathy is a very useful tactic in getting people interested in things – to try and help them understand the way that you’re seeing things and appreciating them. But vice versa to try and understand – what is it that they might find interesting or even beautiful, and try and sell my idea in those terms. Understanding what’s driving other people stops you getting into needless arguments or might help get them on side to help you.

I mentioned you know what got me into studying animal behavior and behavioral ecology was Nick Davis his lectures and in large part it was his just overwhelming enthusiasm for what he was doing, which was studying animals in the natural world doing all sorts of interesting things. And you could just see his excitement and he was good at spinning stories, so you got wrapped up in the excitement too. I mean as a as a general point, if you look at which lectures and lecturers are undergraduates don’t find so exciting, it’s the ones where the lecturer, him or herself, doesn’t sound interested either. You know, uhm, if someone is passionate about what they’re talking about, even if you’re not particularly interested in that particular topic, you nevertheless appreciate that they’re excited and that gets you some of the way towards being interested. The ideal is they become fully on board and are every bit as excited about X as you are, but you know you have to accept that other people have different priorities and interests.

I think it’s perfectly possible [there are people who do science with no sense of beauty in it]. Those are the boring lecturers. [But it’s not common] fortunately. I mean there are plenty of people who not saying necessarily by choice, but maybe sometimes by choice, do science as a purely mechanical operation, without any great drive or personal joy from it, it’s just your job.They just look miserable all the time. Those are the people who can’t wait to get home. I feel sorry for them. And as I say, it is quite hard to get excited by someone else’s work when they patently aren’t excited by it either.

I speak more directly about how I find it, in the first place, I say “I’m doing this and I think it’s pretty cool,  I like it, I think it’s beautiful”. But I must say that with some people often you answer the second question that they ask, which is “And why?” – “Because I find it beautiful and I find it beautiful for this, this, this.” And in my experience, the next question has always been “OK, but then what? Like, how this helps us?” – OK, how what I’m doing helps us? Which is the application of it? And so you’re forced to – OK, let’s put aside this beauty part, because not everybody has the same perception of it, of course. But it’s too bad. For me, that’s enough. So yeah, sometimes I stopped putting the beauty-ness – beauty as a motivation of the reason I’m doing the work. 

This discussion we had this friend of mine and she was almost more strict about and more convinced about it because she had a much more descriptive science field, which is just like I will cut this animal in two, and says I will describe the little organs that are invisible, and I find it beautiful. And so we had some discussion with her. And yeah, like even with during the PhD fellas, I used to do this – like we were talking about the beautiness part, the beauty, all the time.

I don’t know if [talking about beauty] in the first place changes the way I see it or the person who researches, but for sure I think it catalyzes the attention or it makes you more aware of what the other people is saying because I’m receiving something like, OK, these people really, really thinks that there is beauty in what they’re doing, So let me listen more closely, because I feel this energy. So there must be something here. I can feel how this person is enthusiastic about it. And so maybe in the end it won’t change it – if I don’t find it beautiful or I don’t find the applicability of it like other people do, it won’t change the way I see it, but in the communication part it will colorize my attention. It will mean, OK, I’m listening to you more closely, 

It’s not common [to talk about beauty in my field] especially now that I’m here, it did not happen to me here as much as before. Maybe it’s just because we’re on the side of the postdoc phase compared to the PhD, which you are more energetic or young or I don’t know. So no, nobody talks about it here. Also I think you talk about your research more often with your PI or your other supervisors and I think this bit gets lost in these communications because it’s just about what we have to do, what results we need. We have what are the next steps? Which is fine, it’s a job. But sometimes you miss some reflection of these: “hey, how was it doing this?” At least this was my experience here, we don’t talk much about work likely when we go out for beers and stuff with the other friends [from work]. So maybe there I’ve missed some opportunity of just sharing the research to peers and triggering this enthusiasm of sharing the beauty of it. 

I would like, because of how I am, to feel it more, to hear about it more. Why is it just “ok, let’s find out the result, let’s just do another thing.” I don’t know. I understand,  also because how have you reached this level without grasping that beauty from time to time? Otherwise it’s just about problems, writing a project? You have to stop and see. I can’t imagine doing this job without that part in your brain or whatever. I can’t imagine doing that.

This is a job and not everybody has to have this flame somehow. And also I think it depends a lot how you were formed during your study or the people you met. I was lucky in a way. maybe unlucky in other ways, but my Bachelor biodiversity professor back in Rome, who is now retired, and he was just a person which if you enter the office, he’s just like scrolling Google images for an insect that he used to study in Central Africa, and you say “sorry, Professor, I have to make you sign this.” And he would say “Yeah, yeah. But sit and look at this insect” and he would just start talking about it like “this is beautiful. It was doing this when I saw it…” and this is something I feel that needs to be part of what pushes you. Because otherwise most of the time it’s just numbers and codes and reviews.

If it’s friends and family, it always has to be the starting point. You just show them this latest journalist’s work, and you try to make sure the journalists used the most beautiful photos you have of the species. They couldn’t care less about the physics or the biology, but they do care about the stuff that they can then show and brag themselves, “Look at what my uncle has done” or “what my friend has done”. That’s important. That that gives me satisfaction, more than probably being cited, having some people that I care about, care about the stuff that I put out there.

I do know that if you’re selling tough science, using beauty as an additional vehicle makes life so much easier. You do this in lecturing, you find a nice image of the species rather than any image – to make it beautiful. And you spend time to make your slides beautiful and appealing and the storytelling needs to be good. And it’s all scientific facts, of course – but if you exude the feeling that you consider it beautiful. I’m convinced that it will transpire and can inspire better than if you’re dry speaker just rattling down the facts without caring. In that case it’s also love for the subject, which is not unrelated to beauty. If that transpires, you can inspire, I think it’s much harder without.

If I’ve got a team meeting and if somebody finds some sort of data that just fits in nicely or you finally managed to get that data measure that we needed, I would say “Wow, isn’t it nice how it comes together so beautifully?” That’s what I would say. I wouldn’t say, oh, “I think this is beautiful”. I would just state the beauty of it. 

[As researchers] we’re supposed to be matter of factly and fact driven. So if you really work on a project, I think it’s more just handiwork. You just need to do it and you need to do it right. So I’m not talking about the beauty of it when you design or establish a collaboration, but when things come together and you are thinking about how to sell it. I like these graphical abstracts – every figure should be a graphical abstract where you tell a story. The story is always hidden in there, but you have to sizzle away at it such that you have the perfect way to tell it in that figure. And that to me is revealing hidden beauty, making sure that it’s accessible to everybody, and we go over these results figures, or the abstract figures so many times – really optimizing everything, looking at the color scheme, looking at the positioning, Occam’s razor, getting rid of stuff that doesn’t help in this story. And that’s a long process which I think is, I think it’s an art, so it’s an artistic process where you already know what your subject is, but you need to find the form that best brings it forward. On that point, artistic concepts of beauty are very important in the way you sell it and if you don’t have these top level figures you will never get it into the top journals. It’s as simple as that.. 

If you look at the editorial decisions whether or not to send your paper out for review of course it depends massively on the figures you put in there. They are going to read the abstract and then they look at the figures and then think “that’s a really cool figure, I want to see that in my journal!” That’s the point, and by really cool I mean it needs to be informative, but it also needs to be beautiful. And yes, it’s important if you don’t strive for beauty in the stuff that you submit, you’ll be less successful.

Most journals would not dare to [state that openly] because it puts the onus on the researcher to produce something that is visually, graphically beautiful. don’t think they demand that. I’m thinking about somebody whose publication is just physics formulas. We’ve published these papers. How can you make that beautiful and? You can make the formula beautiful, but that’s for a small cohort of readers that actually understand the beauty of it.

Like the Heisenberg formula, its simplicity is massively beautiful, but the derivation isn’t. And if you’re not into physics, it’s just a few numbers that don’t mean anything – but the concept behind it makes it beautiful. So if a journal would say we want you to produce beautiful figures, some people might really struggle, and beauty is also in the eye of the beholder. So some people might consider something beautiful, which actually others don’t and that is a complication.

Sometimes you design something that you think is going to wow everybody – but it doesn’t, or just a few. And you see OK, it’s something they don’t connect, I think they should but they don’t, and you just have to do better. 

Most of the time, you don’t have the privilege to test and trial and optimize it. Most of the time you’ve got one shot and you need to get it right, but where I found a playing field is in press releases. What you do is you write your press release and that’s just, normal work. But then you add media with it, and this is where you can be creative. You take photos, different kinds of photos, you take some animations, maybe some graphical schematics. You put them all out there, and then you watch what happens. Then you see which ones the different news media outlets use and prefer, and that closes the feedback loop. You see that’s what they’re going for on this one – that teaches you something about what they perceive as the most, well, mainly clickbait, so beauty – for that particular story and that’s how I learn, trying different things, having an expectation which one they should pick and then be surprised which ones they do.

There is a disconnect. Sometimes I like to push more abstract ideas that are harder to push, and most of the time, the journalists go for the simplest story, maybe just the photo of the organism, and then the complexity’s in the text – the complexity is still there even if you give them a really nice figure. Sometimes I have the feeling that if you can’t grasp it in two seconds, it’s too complicated at least for online media. Today a piece came out in the Economist where I was interviewed [about moths] and I’ve given them loads of stuff and they wrote about it all in the text. But as a picture they didn’t take one of my moths or anything, they put a shark! A camouflaged shark. Because we’re talking about camouflage, they say, can you spot the shark in this image? And that was that was the illustration. 

When speaking to other scientists in the field, I stay the most neutral because there you talk more about the actual findings of the study and less about the organisms, but I think everywhere else it immediately, will become more about ants than the actual research question, I think. I’ve received that feedback quite a lot, but there’s so much excitement for it, and I think that’s just like – I’m, motivated and excited about that topic and it’s probably because to me that’s a beautiful experience to do that

Most of the people are like that’s actually interesting or just a question, And a few people are also like, getting a bit more on the level “oh, it’s so cool having these organisms in the lab”. I think there is some people where you can kind of give over that spark of excitement. 

I think [the experience of beauty]’s a battery… I think that’s also if you have this reaction multiple times that people are like, oh, that’s so cool, that’s – I think that’s also beautiful. You know, it’s like then feedback reinforcing what you’re doing, saying what you’re doing is actually worth something which sometimes you don’t even know in science, you know, I have these very narrow questions and I’m able to answer them and that’s it. Somehow other people like “Oh, that’s cool, what you’re doing”, that helps. It’s not required, but it can give you the extra boost. You know, it’s just. Well an additional point of where you get some motivation

I think [beauty]’s part of the value [of science]. If you take like a tiny research question out of context. It’s like, who cares? And then in total of course with all the other studies to the same topic, you get ahead in whatever field and that’s good, that’s what science is about: generating knowledge. But to you as a researcher, maybe, I mean that can help you need motivation to keep going and … it’s typically it’s that your personal interest which is maybe because your find your topic beautiful, which will keep you going. And then there is just, other inputs which will give you additional motivation. 

you can share that with others and there will be some positive feedback which will then keep you going – I think that’s also something: When going to conferences, you meet other people and they’re like, oh, “that’s a cool topic you’re working on.” There is already a little bit of extra boost.

I think it’s a bit more difficult to get the excitement out of other researchers, I think somehow researchers when talking to each other, they always have to be a bit smart. There’s a few researchers that are always, you know, very excited when talking about their topic and others that are very like, very good, to the point, but you don’t really get this additional thing  – the emotions involved with it, I would say. Yeah, but some researchers get quite emotional when talking about their research.

I don’t know. Maybe, [scientists who don’t express experiences of beauty] don’t like sharing that, or maybe they’re not experiencing it, so it could be either, but I think in the ones where you really get it, you realize, they think what they’re doing and the organisms they’re working with are beautiful, that’s the difference. It means everything to them. It’s their life.

Probably it didn’t [change the way that I think about their work]  – because the work, I think we should be looked at very like independent of emotions or anything like that. It’s just like, well they do solid good research with good outcome like – that’s very good. But when it comes to interacting with them, I think it makes,  it’s nicer to attract the people that, Yeah, that are not just it sounds bad, but like not just out of stone. [boring voice] “Yes, I’ve done so many X-rays, so much research about honeybees, and they’re dying” 

Compare that to someone who’s like [excited voice]“They’re so beautiful, we did this study where one bumblebee learned how to score a goal with a football.” Or, you know, like. I think those conversations then can be beautiful as well, like that’s a beautiful interaction. Whereas “yes, and one bumblebee learned. They can learn” – it can be.

[Remembering a time a scientist talked about their experience of beauty,] I’m not sure if the word beautiful was mentioned, but I think two people come to mind. First is, I don’t even know her name, probably it would be very easy to find it out. I remember her face and presentation. And it was one of these rather dry pandemic online conferences and she spoke about Wasps. I should know her name. Anyways,  whenever she’s talking about her topic, it’s, it’s so cool. “Why is why are so many people studying ants if you could also study Wasps! And it just stood out how much, I think she was also trying a little bit to give her excitement and maybe her experience of beauty in her research organism and trying to share that with people and it was immediately the presentation was better. It’s just like there was this energy there. And then the other thing, yeah, I think it’s my PhD supervisor, and he’s always – I think for him the most beautiful thing is finding a new research question whenever he is finding, whenever there is a knowledge gap he’s like “I mean this and that. And then what about?! What about this signal?!” And then he starts creating all these ways how we can solve this problem or find a solution to that and, yeah I’ve always found it maybe beautiful, How he can get excited so much about something unknown. … well in my mind, I think “Can I do the same thing with ants?” – That’s usually my reaction. Should I? … you can both get excited, but based on different things.

Yeah, I think so, all the time. If I’m talking to a friend or colleague and say there’s this really cool thing that I found this, if you do this it does that. And then if you do that it does this or whatever. And they go “That’s really cool” as well, but when we say “that’s cool” I don’t know, I think that’s “this is beautiful”, isn’t it? Like, look at this thing that I’ve made or discovered and we can both appreciate it together.

It’s the same thing. It’s so abstract that beauty is one word for cool or interesting. They’re all like words for the same thing, I think. I think they’re just different words for the same thing at the end of the day. And I wouldn’t necessarily describe something as ‘beautiful’ in the moment. But when I say cool, yeah, exactly, that is what I mean, properly.

Definitely when I talk to friends and colleagues who aren’t scientists, I could tell them something like “this is really cool! Yadda yadda yadda” And they’d go “what? I don’t care”- kind of thing, like they don’t see it the same way I see it, ’cause they haven’t done the four years, six years of study. But then they can talk about other things that I wouldn’t understand, like, I don’t know… I’ve got a friend who is a blacksmith and he can see things in pieces of metal, that I’m just like what? I don’t see why- there’s all these techniques or whatever.

[ knowing that they probably won’t understand means I talk about it ] less, but I like to if people are interested and engaged. … I don’t think everybody is able to see it. So I’m not going to emphasize [beauty]. I will, I maybe try and explain a concept, and, if they’re interested in it, if they’re engaged, I think they must see it as – if you’re interested in something, again I think it’s the same thing as saying it’s beautiful. If you’re attracted to something and they’re attracted to this idea even if they’ve not studied it before, they must see it as beautiful.

I think [in my field it is the norm to talk about experiences of beauty]. But maybe I’m actually back to explicit and implicit. Maybe they don’t think of it in that way like that’s what we’re talking about. But if we’re sharing things with each other that we found out, I think that explicitly / implicitly, I’m not sure which way around it is, but I think yes, yeah, if we’re sharing ideas, then yes.

… not all ideas are shared because you think they’re beautiful. If it’s just something that you’ve just found. Something like “hey, look at this thing I just found, this is for work, I need to show you how this works”

… I feel like the word feeling beauty itself is rarely used – Yeah, sometimes it is, but often not, it’s more just like excitement and saying this is cool. Does that happen? Yeah, I’d say often enough. Like just sat in the office, you’re just talking about, I don’t know, it doesn’t have to be physics – just talking about something else that we found exciting in science, like maybe biology. One of my friends really likes biology and just talking about that, it’s the same thing and people are engaged and they’re attracted to the idea of what he’s talking about. 

I think it helps [when people express experiences of beauty]. Like if they can point me in the direction – if they can say why they think this is beautiful, that would help me appreciate it more. It’s the same with any subject, like if anyone is telling me about what they’re passionate about, if they’re saying why it’s cool for them, I can maybe surf on that and see why it would be cool for me as well and try and understand their point of view. So I definitely think it would help. 

For me it’s not a problem, personally [if I don’t understand someone else’s experience]. If someone says this is beautiful and I don’t, I fully respect that like, OK, I understand that we have different views and stuff like that. And just ’cause I can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, so I don’t think it doesn’t not help. If anything, if someone says something is cool and beautiful, I’m more likely to be engaged. I want to try and understand what they’re seeing in it. I want to see what they’re seeing. Other people might disagree some people will be like, “oh I don’t care”. They’re not going to engage with that.

Something slightly related is music. I’ve got a lot of our musical friends and they talked at a high level, they’ll listen to something and they’ll tell me what they’re hearing in it and they’ve got a very fine ear and they can hear key changes and certain rhythm patterns and them telling me that, I can start to hear them and I enjoy it more. But it’s the same thing as someone describing something technical, they’ve got a more technical vocabulary than me and by them explaining to me what they’re hearing in the music, that I can then hear that as well and enjoy it more. So not explicitly research I can think of an example. That’s a very clear example in my head ’cause I’ve experienced that quite a few times with my friends.

[I know people who say they don’t experience it as beauty but] I try and convince them otherwise. They might just not call it that.

I would say I maybe I only talk about it to people who I think will get it. I can give you an example of last week I did a public lecture on nanomaterials, nanotechnology, nanoscience and everything. And it was all about the kind of idea that things look different when we look at them on different scales and that there’s an inherent hidden world that we don’t get to see when we just use our eyes and we have to be able to understand what the individual components are and a huge chunk of that is on the beauty of materials on a small scale. So I guess I talk to a kind of large audience about this kind of thing I would say a few times a year. With my colleagues and on a personal level, it’s probably only one or two colleagues that I would discuss the beauty inherent in what I do regularly. I might over coffee go “Oh I’ve got some beautiful data” you know “you need to see these scattering patterns, they’re the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen. They’re gorgeous, they’re so symmetric, and they’re so perfect”, and I might do that once in a while, but I think… It’s either as a dissemination tool, or it’s a very very personal conversation with one person, but it’s not something that I would say I do generally.

[People don’t tend to talk about it], and I think it’s a capacity thing. We’re all extremely busy, and when you only have maybe 10 minutes to talk to somebody, you pick if there’s something you have to discuss. I’m sure if I had more time, I could sit down with pretty much anyone in our department and say, tell me what you’re working on, tell me what you’re doing. Actually, I have a colleague in astrophysics who I do talk to about this kind of thing and she shows me images, telescope images and she talks to me about them and she gets really excited and really quite overwhelmed by how they are beautiful and so I guess she feels like she can talk to me about her work and even though I have no understanding of what she does, she showed me stuff and explained it and I’ve been able to appreciate that it is beautiful.

I don’t think it’s necessary [that people agree on beauty]. It’s great if they do. It can still be beautiful to the person who’s showing that data. Obviously it’s nice when people share our view on it, but I don’t think for example, if I showed someone some data and said “Oh my God, see how beautiful this is” – if they said “I don’t get it”, I wouldn’t be offended because I still find it beautiful and that’s all that matters. 

I guess then they are getting an understanding of how much it means to me. They’re getting an understanding of its importance to me, and that I find it beautiful, and I think people can appreciate that. 

I’d definitely say a majority [of scientists I have met experience beauty in their work]. There are some who I’m not sure, because I don’t have the kind of conversations where I would be able to gauge that level of depth.

I don’t know [if it’s possible to do science without experiencing it as beautiful], I genuinely can’t answer that because I think, for me that might boil down to a what I perceive as beauty in, for example, my experience of science might be very different to the emotion that they have around it and they might not see what they do is beautiful, but it’s very akin to how I feel it. We might just use different words to describe it. So I think very few people, certainly that I’ve met, go into science without having something as a deeper motivator. For me, I think that is wrapped up in beauty – as well as just curiosity. For other people, I don’t know, I think people have to find something deeper than just numbers on a page. And whether they describe that as beauty? I couldn’t be sure.</span

I think I probably do [talk about beauty in science to friends and family] without realizing it. When I’m trying to communicate what I do. I appreciate that for people who don’t have a background in any sort of higher level science, no matter what we do, it’s very hard to get people to understand that. When I’m talking to them about what I do I try and use very visual language to try and get them to understand what it is I’m doing and I try and use things that they already have in their own reference. And very often those will be things that might be quite beautiful. So things like plants and insects and butterflies and the sun and the planets and things that are around us, that are probably perceived to be, by most people, beautiful. So I guess then I try and link that to the beauty that I see in my work.

Yes, I do talk about the different feelings of beauty when discussing my work with other people. I can remember some few times where I felt comfortable to explicitly talk about my experiences of beauty with other scientists. These few times happened with close friends that are also scientists, usually outside the academic environment (e.g. during fieldwork, in a pub, etc) . Based on my own experience, I don’t think the higher education system in the UK and internationally gives us many opportunities to feel comfortable to talk about the experience of beauty in science. 
I think this largely depends on who I’m talking to – within the scientific community, I feel like there’s more of an acceptance of science being beautiful as opposed to talking to friends and family who don’t work in science. I try and bring it into talks I deliver/science communication that I do as seeing beauty in science allows for us to enjoy it more (in the same way that we can both study and enjoy something like literature).

I’d like to get more beautiful. Because I feel like in my particular work, I’m not very good at presenting things well or I’m a bit clumsy in terms of doing microscopy or whatever, or putting things together. So I would certainly like my presentation of my data to be a bit more impressive I guess. And I mean it helps, I think, you know if you go to a seminar and someone’s got really impressive data, but they put it together in a slightly junky way – you’re not as likely to walk away from it, from a seminar, or exactly the same data when someone’s done a really good job of presenting it  – made it kind of bells and whistles. So it helps your career as well, to recognise beauty.

If you’re discovering a topic for the first time, [the beauty of how work is presented] might be a bit more influential in terms of how you view that area of research in the way presented. If you’re more familiar with that research topic, I guess the beauty itself is less likely to persuade you about that topic because you’re aware of the kind of general capacity for that topic to be useful, but it certainly, I think, gives a clear indication of the researcher’s output and how they how they think and how they work. Because you are a bit more experienced and you’re more sensitive to what people can do. So if researcher X produces it more beautifully and researcher Y, you’re probably more likely to go and speak to researcher X after their talk I guess, yeah, I think I probably would.

If you can convey beauty, you might be viewed as naturally more approachable or more interesting to talk to. If someone presents the same data in a boring or un-visually-impressive way I think that I would take that, perhaps as an indication that they would be a less convivial conversation afterwards, perhaps?

The most regular conversations I have about the beauty of science would be with my lab mates. And smaller circle of kind of associated researchers. You feel like they’re going to be more appreciative of actually what you’re trying to describe. You know if we have a lab meeting, and I think I’ve done something particularly nice, I might describe it as beautiful I guess. “These results are beautiful”? Yeah, I think that’s probably something I would say.

If I’m talking with people outside of science I guess, if I’m trying to talk to non-scientists or people that ask me, “what do you do?” and I say “I do plant science” and they say “why do you do it?” I might try to persuade them with ideas that are really big and fascinating and cool I guess, but I don’t know if I’d kind of push the beauty of it.

I feel like I tend to be on the slightly lower end of the kind of beauty-conveying spectrum. I should, you know, be a bit more. My old mentor, my old postdoc supervisor, he was fantastic and he really was enthused about everything and he was great to be around and he was so excited. He liked to express it, I guess for him threshold for what made him enthusiastic was much lower [than for me]. And that was a really nice experience, I mean a good role model to have to show you that it’s a good thing to convey your excitement and your enthusiasm and what you find beautiful out there. It’s made me more comfortable about expressing excitement about things, which is mainly just – if you’re a bit younger, a bit more self aware, you’re not so good at it. And it was a cultural shift I think moving from the UK to the US where people are generally more excitable anyway. But I used to give presentations where even when it was my own data, I was very proud of it – I would be a bit more kind of monotone and reserved, and I feel like the learning experience to become a bit more, not evangelical, but, yeah, the proponent of what you’ve done and why it’s exciting. If I haven’t met him, I’d be even worse. I could definitely be better but I’ve improved. 

I think [expressing beauty] certainly helps you get by. It certainly. You know, science is a relatively small community in some ways, and if people see you give seminars, and you’re able to write about science in a way that conveys what you do in a beautiful manner, you are more likely to progress I think.

A lot of [whether you express feelings of beauty]’s probably cultural in terms how you present yourself and how you kind of engage with people. We all perceive the world in different ways so I mean it’s not something I guess I’ve necessarily thought about, but some people are less impressed by things naturally. I mean everyone likes, waterfalls, everyone finds waterfalls pretty, but apart from that…

I think some people are naturally more ‘impressed’ I guess. I spoke about my mentor, saying slightly gibly that he has a “low enthusiasm tolerance” because he finds everything exciting about the world around him, and that’s wonderful. And then conversely, for other people you know, it takes a lot more to actually motivate them to be excited about things. So yeah people are tuned in different ways to the world around them.

I don’t feel the pressure to [express beauty] but it’s certainly something I’m aware of. I think I’ve got to the stage now really where I’m able to convey things better. You know there’s a pressure in science to produce and to get published, more so than convey beauty. Yeah I want to do things well, I don’t wanna produce tatty work. But the strongest pressure I feel is just to get data and get things moving in the lab. When I write I take a lot of pride in what I’m saying and I hope it’s – I think I would be upset if I felt like my scientific writing was deemed ‘non-beautiful’.

I’m excited by them and it doesn’t matter to whom I’m speaking although I feel very much so when I’m just in a situation with a non-scientist, often I won’t talk about my work at all because I’m, you know, I don’t like to burden people with what I assume they would find tedious. But if I’m talking to my wife, who is also a scientist or when I’m at work and I’m talking to people. Once even this morning, you know you’re showing something you’ve done and you say “look, do you like that? I like the way–” I’m representing that data, yeah and it’s just good. Then I do a little bit of [computer] scripting and even that, it’s hardly science, but you do a bit of scripting and it just can be amazing that you can write these three or four lines and it organizes your data for you and it puts something out. You know, little bits of excitement – I don’t know if that’s a beauty, but it’s this, look, isn’t this amazing that you can just do this and what you would have taken days and days today to do with Excel, you’ve just done it. And that is –  it is that beauty? but it’s something that switches you on, it makes you feel: yeah, that’s great.

When I’m doing talks when I’m suddenly talking about something that I find fascinating, I can get a buzz out of that. And I’m sure when we’re talking within our group you don’t explicitly talk about something but you can see once – “ah, that’s really fascinating!”. So you can see that there’s an enjoyment of seeing the results or how some things work through. So it is always there, but it’s not explicit. It’s not like going to the theatre coming  and coming away and you think “God. That was absolutely brilliant.”

It might seem a little bit weird if you did. Because obviously there’s the people you know really well, and you might say “oh that’s amazing”. You might sort of express that, but I’m a little bit old fashioned I suppose, so any overexuberance to people you don’t really know – would seem a little bit out of place? I don’t know. But that might just be some sort of social barrier that’s in the way, right? You know, in any situation. Although if I go and talk to people about that theatre, I don’t have to know them particularly well to sort of say how much you’ve enjoyed a piece of theatre. There’s probably a difference, but I’d probably assume that with a piece of theatre or film I’ve seen there’s more ground in common. 

I’m looking for what they find fascinating so I can share that enjoyment. And because what I do is a little bit out on a wing for every day working folk, I can’t imagine that I can lay that out, and if I start getting too excited about that, they probably won’t understand. Although I can come down to my wife and say something because she will understand it. And we often do just say “wow, look at that” or you know, you see something that’s going on in cancer research or they’ve discovered this or the microbiome, you say “wow, that’s really amazing how that is having such an influence on disease and things”. I suppose I’m choosing my audience in that way, and with theatre and cinema you might think there’s many more people I can share my enthusiasm with, but when I’m talking about science, I’ll be much more selective in my audience, just because I don’t want to burden people with things they wouldn’t find interesting. But I’m never a putter-on, I don’t just talk to people because I think, you know I’m just a talker. I want there to be that the person is being receptive, the moment I see they’re not receptive then obviously there’s no point in talking anymore.

Perhaps not as much as I should! Tricky to express in a world where you are taught to be entirely objective and factual…

5. Do you consciously use ideas about beauty when you do public engagement? How do you use it? What’s your experience of doing that? What are the advantages and challenges in using the idea of beauty when you are discussing science?

I think, personally, reaching people on an emotional level and again through a shared appreciation of beauty or inherent value somehow of a system is one way that I can imagine that working. But anyone Ive asked doesn’t have obviously the answer for how you can actually inherently lead from awareness raising for example, to positive behavior change, it’s something that is kind of elusive. 

Personally, I think it’s, probably explicit expressions [of beauty], but not through words. I am really keen on photography and other sort of creative expressions, so I will often try to be as visually moving as I can. Because I think it’s palpable, the difference you get in terms of the level of engagement you have, whether that’s in a conference with people studying the exact same study species or whether it’s with a bunch of four to six year old kids online. I’ve always tried to use explicitly the most beautiful images or sketches or phrases of descriptions as I can, because it’s – I’ve never officially measured it – and it probably would be really difficult to do that – but it’s really, it’s a really palpable difference, how people actually engage with you, engage with your work and how long it seems to last in people memories as well. And so I think that there are definitely explicit expressions of beauty in that, but it won’t necessarily be through what I’m saying. 

I think [visual and abstract beauty] are connected, I think I suppose I can use some very easy forms of expressions of beauty in the sense that we’re a very visual species. We’re very used to engaging with visual content and we also have very high standards for what we visually find appealing. And so I think that that’s quite an easy way to engage with beauty that people are very used to and very open for. If we just use the example of the friend who maybe doesn’t have a beautiful image of a manta ray but does have this incredible model , I think that we can express beauty in the same ways … I guess, I think that fundamentally we are talking about the same – or elements of the same thing. Because both my modeling friend and myself love the systems we’re trying to understand, and find it beautiful, but I think we like different parts of the puzzle more. He’s more of a corner puzzle worker and I’m right in the center or however you want to describe it. 

The point is I think you can if you’re original with how you express it, that can heighten the sense of beauty in the sense that people aren’t desensitized to it, so it’s not only reaching your audience, it’s also finding a way of doing that in a in a way that’s different from just in the sense that people do become accustomed. You know, they might have the most beautiful sunset that they appreciate every evening, but you’ll bring a friend round who doesn’t have that lives near and sees a concrete wall, and they’ll be taken into a whole next level of it. So I think an originality in how you express that beauty definitely increases the appreciation for it.

[Another] thing is that there is a very obvious need to create beauty, but beauty in terms of, let’s say papers, interviews, video materials, tweets that are just so obviously beautiful that people like to engage with it. And ‘people’, that could be my Twitter followers, the handful of them, or the people that read our journals and then write press releases. So, creating things that not just show the science, but show it in an extremely beautiful and very accessible way. This is where we use beauty or common concepts of beauty, to pitch our story.So, I’m convinced this is beautiful, but for me the beauty rests in the match between the formula and the structure. Yeah, OK – I can say that, but nobody can follow me there. So I need to bring it down into this one figure where it completely breaks it down so you can look at it, immediately get it, and that is then the conceptual beauty done in a beautiful way.  I can show you our moths display cabinet that we opened last month. I think it’s beautiful. We’ve just been given a display cabinet [in the department]. And I think this is a beautiful thing. That’s exactly that sort of bringing beautiful research concepts into something that is pleasing to look at.

[Otherwise] we are the creators of beauty for our benefits. So we think it’s beautiful, but then we are just in our Ivory Tower thinking, surrounded by all of this beauty that nobody can see is beautiful, so that’s rubbish. That’s good for you, but it doesn’t really help the world at all. So you have to do the second step and make sure that the beauty is available to others. I’m very keen on doing this. Last Friday we spent like 12 hours down at [a public engagement] event. Over the years we’ve perfected our display so we have really beautiful exhibits – trying to draw in people and fascinate them, and experience the beauty and I think it works. And for me this…. we can call it “outreach”, but it’s just this motivation to talk about what we think is so important and so inspiring. I think that’s trying to bring the beauty of discovery out there. 

If we’re talking about interactions with consumers of information, so we’re providing information that we’ve discovered and we want other people to other people to care. So just [having a flashy display]? Yeah, they might look at you, but then if you can’t deliver, you haven’t achieved anything. You might have had a brief glimpse of attention. But what you want to do is give them something that changes their perception. I think that’s –  that’s the purpose of all art, changing your audience. And I think that if you don’t aim for that, then your outreach, or your research, is pretty much for your own benefit or for a very narrow community of people. And I don’t think that’s what’s mine should do

We’ve got this insect box which has lots of colorful stuff in there and then we start talking and you can see if it’s just the colorful insect box without the story behind it [they’ll say] “Now I’ve seen that” and move on, but that’s not what you want. You want them to come and listen too and after the first two sentences, they’re drawn in and they listen and they want to have the full story. And that’s what inspires them and that’s what changes them, so it’s not just a flashy advert, it is touching them. 

I think the difference between the beauty of display item and the beauty of the concept or the discovery, there might be disparity there [in some research fields], but I think if you really care, you’ll find a way to do something beautiful. If you work on, for example, microbes: just get a really interesting 3D model of this microbe, which looks beautiful, colorful. You can make it really beautiful. And then you use that as an entry point for the beautiful story that comes with it. And I think that it has to be both.

Sometimes the story’s too complex to make it beautiful. Every teaching means that you’re not telling the full story. We can never tell the full story, and that means you’re leaving out some stuff, which means you’re lying, which means it’s no longer pure, but this is what all teaching is about and this is what all science communication about. So, most of the time it’s easy to know which bits to leave out through vagaries, but sometimes you have to leave stuff out that is essential just to make it digestible. And this is where it gets difficult, where you have to compromise to achieve beauty and to reach your audience.

If you can’t take the people the full story, maybe you take them 80% of the way. The rest is in the text, which can be written beautifully, but that’s a different story.  If you over complicate things, you lose beauty.

You cannot force beauty or insight on somebody,  you can only make offers. So you use your most beautiful pitch. Or you’ve got three stories and you think story A is the most important one. All are equally beautiful. But your audience determines what they take away, so you can only make offers and then they take it or they don’t. I don’t get frustrated if they don’t get the point. I’m just happy about the part of the journey that they did follow.

You’re creating beauty but not everybody has to see it is beautiful or is relevant. Because they might get a different experience instead. Yeah, and those that do find it beautiful are the ones that you’re working for.

I do have a research subject that actually is beautiful, so it’s easier for me to be that enthusiastic in that embracing while others that just put liquids into vials and shake them and then do some stuff with them, which is done for so many different subjects and it doesn’t really give you anything beautiful to show. They might have a harder time. So maybe I’m privileged. Or maybe I’ve chosen my career to give me that. It’s probably the second. 

I think, like I said before, it’s finding other people’s experiences. I think that most people have had an experience of beauty in nature. So trying to find out what that is, how it is that they’ve experienced that and then talking to them about it and how it made them feel and that’s the kind of motivation for then, for them enacting change. I think that there’s a real art of storytelling about nature, so it’s exactly what we see in, if you think David Attenborough, it’s a story and you’re becoming emotionally invested in the story of that particular animal that you’re watching and so then you care about it. And I think that I try and do that where I can, because plants and pollinators… It’s relatively easy to get someone engaged in a story about some a fluffy mammal like that. We connect with them very, very easily. It’s harder with insects and a lot of people have negative experiences of insects, so they might be coming at it from a place of fear or a place of disgust. Or just kind of not really understanding so actually trying to give them a narrative that they can connect to. Whether that’s something fascinating or funny, or an idea of family or something within the insect world… and within the plant world as well, because giving plants personalities, I think, and making people think about them as being living things rather than –  it’s easy to just think of plants as stuff. ‘It’s just kind of there and they’re inert. And what are they really doing?’ Making those connections and thinking about the living experience of that.

I suppose, [I might also use] examples of when a bit of research has solved the problem or given us – you’ve worked something out and then been able to show that that’s true or and then discover something else because of that. Yeah I will definitely sometimes use that. Examples like that, to say you know, well, we thought about this and we were able to show this and then that meant that we discovered this – and that story, the narrative and the beauty of that sense of discovery.

I think they are separate. Obviously you can have the beauty of knowledge and discovery – you can have it for anything. It doesn’t have to be beautiful flowers could be whatever it is that you’re learning, it could be about virus evolution. But I think that the beauty of discovery narrative is important to justify the action, to justify the science, sometimes to say this is why we care about this. You know, this is why we’re bothering to go out and do these things, because there’s value in that journey of discovery. So that people can – I think understanding the why can be quite important.

I think sometimes people can feel, particularly with all other stuff that’s going on in the world, people can feel a bit like, well, why? Why are you doing this? Why are we spending money on this, what’s the point in this? Yes, it’s lovely, yes, it’s beautiful but what’s the gain? And sometimes you know, that’s not necessarily the way that I see it  -in terms of this is the financial gain or the whatever-it-is gain but for some people, that’s an important thing to understand, because otherwise it could feel a bit like, ‘well, yes, that’s lovely that scientists do this research in nature, but what’s the point?’

 I suppose from my experience of it, people do seem to feel that it’s in that sense a justification. Maybe they go home and think about it and think ‘Oh no, I don’t really actually, is that enough?’ But yeah, I do feel like people do respond to that.

[I think there are challenges to using beauty in science communication] and I think partly because not everyone’s idea of beauty is going to be the same and sometimes people might just be like ‘I don’t get that. That doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t see the beauty of that’ or ‘It doesn’t work’. 

If I’m there saying this thing is amazing and so beautiful and incredible and they could be like “I don’t get it” and then that puts up a bit of a wall in between you because you’re seeing the world in a different way. But it doesn’t – I don’t find that happens very much but that can happen. And I think could happen more easily with, say for example by talking about beauty of maths – a lot of people would just say ‘no, I don’t get that’. 

The other thing that I experienced where you, within my particular field, is that then it can create anxiety and concern because you’re telling people about this amazing, beautiful stuff and then you are saying, often in the same breath, that there are problems: this stuff is disappearing. We need to do something to help this. And so you’re kind of introducing people to this wonderful thing and then saying oh, but the situation’s really bad. And so sometimes, I think you have to be careful about managing that in a way that’s appropriate for that person. And particularly also when we’re doing stuff with children or seeing that with children where they can get so excited and so emotional about something that you’re showing them and then they can be really really sad if you then tell them that that thing is having a bad time, is suffering or is dying out? That’s the negative of it sometimes.

 I remember a couple of big events I did of outreach. There’s like the research night. I had a little desk with a bullfrog and just some insects and stuff. And kids were coming in. My outreach was just like, “hey, look at this!” – The kid was like [wide-eyed] “this bullfrog is huge and beautiful!”, like, “yeah, right?!” And that was it. 

On some occasions you also think “OK, then I’m going to talk about alien species and how it’s a problem for our local ecosystem” – So you don’t want a bullfrog, to be in our ponds with our little Italian frogs. But in the first place, like I’m gonna bring a freaking bull frog in the desk because everybody’s gonna love it because they think it’s beautiful. I still think that when I did it and if I had to do it again here, that’s the first hook. I don’t care about the alien species – someone has to come here because he sees something beautiful, and then, of course, you can put the rational part and say “OK, this guy, he should not be here“

“look how beautiful it is – and understand it.” I think that’s the way: take this beauty ball and then put a rational coat around it. Know and understand how to manage it, let’s say. But the first thing is just the beauty. Because once you have the awareness, you can then attach the rational part, the management part, the science part. But I don’t think any science would become a thing without people looking at the beauty of the stars or a of a tree or whatever, or a molecular color in a jar.

I feel [the beauty of information] when I say it for sure. But I don’t know if this is reflected in the other person’s brain. Like hey, I see beautyness, I hear the information and I feel the beauty of the information too and how these two things connect. I feel that bridge. I would like the other person to understand that, but I don’t know if that’s always the case. It’s hard to tell, no? I think in some situations it happens. Like the students tutoring in zoology was another, it was not an outreach because you want them to study things. But the discussion about a coral in a jar, you could feel that there was something like a different energy. OK, seeing and understanding and connecting these two things. Does it makes sense? 

I’ve never really thought of that. Probably because it’s not obvious to me where beauty comes in there. You know, you try and excite and enthuse, but I think that’s a bit removed from beauty. So like yesterday I did my favorite undergraduate lecture of the year, which is a first year lecture on creationism. It’s very satisfying because it’s different from what most of the students expect, ’cause most biology degrees would not touch creationism with a bargepole ’cause it’s not science. Whereas I make the point that you’re going to come across people who, even if they’re not creationists, have doubts about evolution. And you’re a biologist, and they’ll expect you to have an answer when they say “doesn’t evolution contravene the second law of thermodynamics?” And if you just go “oh I don’t know”, that’s not very good, you should have an answer. So equipping the students with the ability to see flaws in anti-evolution arguments and the evidence to satisfy, all done pretty much in a sort of evangelical style, is great fun – and clearly the students engage much more with that than a purely factual lecture. So certainly that’s the sort of science communication that I enjoy and gives me great satisfaction indeed, you know, even a bit of a high – I come out of the lecture thinking yes, that was a good one! Because I can see that things I’m passionate about are getting the students fired up too. But I wouldn’t really call that beauty.

I will show pretty pictures of animals. That’s maybe the closest [students] get [to beauty in my lectures].

If you show these clips of bird of paradise displays, I think there’s something wrong with you if you don’t think, “wow, that’s just amazing”. I’m pretty visual so maybe not surprising that animal displays and patterns that have evolved to stimulate visual systems are something that appeals to me. Other people, I guess – if I hear particular bird songs, for most people it might be a Nightingale, for me it’s a skylark is – because part of that is by association, I think of summer and I’m thinking I’m actually in a lovely field of a sunny day and that constantly fluctuating up down melody by a little animal that big [gesturing very small] you know hundreds of meters up, that’s beautiful.

I’m certainly using [beauty] to engage, and get interest, yes. I don’t use pictures of ugly animals. In principle why not? you know, but yeah, maybe that’s why I didn’t become a parasitologist. It’s all those lectures of disgusting things.

I do [explicitly talk about experiencing beauty from an animal picture], yes. I mean, certainly when it’s most obvious, say in lectures on sexual selection where I show a picture of a Peacock displaying and I say, well, we all experience it as beautiful. And one of the things that Darwin contemporaries were most unhappy with and rejected was that he strongly believed that that tail had evolved ’cause peahens find it beautiful and they had an aesthetic sense. And so most people at that time would not prescribe an aesthetic sense to animals ’cause it was God-given. But I do make that explicit connection there. And even going as far as saying, yeah, I agree with Darwin that animals have a sense of beauty in that sense.

It allows you to make that link to how an animal might be experiencing the world. But then you make that extra step of saying Yep, but their sensory system isn’t the same as ours, so actually, for example, birds are experiencing colors which we don’t even see. That can create a sense of awe hopefully, but you know very least “Well, that’s interesting”, which gets them thinking about it.

I have an entire series of slides called Beauty and the Bulk, where I show bulk materials and then I show the corresponding false colored microscopy image just to show that a material that looks really dull on the macroscopic scale becomes almost enchanting when you look at it under a microscope. I take really boring compounds like tin oxide and gallium arsenide – things like that. And then I show microscopy images and show when you actually bother to look at this under the surface, when you actually really get to understand this material, it’s not just useful, it’s actually beautiful, and so I have an entire section in one of my talks, which is inherently about the beauty of materials on the nanoscale. Definitely [that’s about the beauty of the] images, I can absolutely say that and the images are very carefully selected to kind of highlight the fact that these materials are not the boring bulk macroscopic things we might assume them to be. But I also try and link that [to a fact] that is mind-blowing and a beautiful concept, and I try and sort of tease out the beauty of the material, but also the beauty of what we can learn from it. The fact that we can learn about the structure of a morpho butterfly and say now we know why it’s blue, but then we can go and replicate that in the lab and then we can take that replication and we can put it into, for example, an anti forgery device in a passport. To me those are all equally beautiful concepts because it’s not just about looking at the butterfly and saying it’s a gorgeous gorgeous creature, but it’s also – well now we understand it, that makes it to me even more beautiful. And now we can use that. I think that to me that full pathway makes it incredibly beautiful. It almost enhances the beauty of the butterfly in the first place. The evaluation question is always a really tough one. I think our ability to evaluate the impact that our public engagement has in any aspect is always something that, as scientists, I don’t think we’re very good at. It’s the thing that I always ask people when they’re asking for money for an event and I ask “how’re you going to evaluate it?” and I’m as guilty as anybody else for not doing proper evaluations. When I do public engagement events and I show people what I perceive to be this beauty in nanoscale materials, my aim is to primarily to introduce them to something that they’ve never seen before, that they’ve maybe never thought about before, that they’ve maybe never realized could be beautiful. And I think I’m not looking for them to suddenly give up everything and go off and be inspired and go and do something with it, but I’m looking for them to have a different perspective and a different understanding at the end of the hour than they did when they came in. And if that is, that actually, materials can be beautiful then I think that’s a positive outcome. I wouldn’t say [the experience of beauty] was the main [intended outcome]. I would say it is an important one. Ultimately, when I do a public engagement event, I don’t necessarily centre the concept of beauty, I use it as a tool to bring together ideas and I would say my main outcome is always an understanding aspect, but I think I use beauty as a vehicle to help drive that understanding because I’d like to think that beauty was maybe something universal, that people can appreciate beauty – and so if I can use that vehicle to get them on board with what I’m trying to explain. I don’t think I go into the public engagement with the express intention of I want them to find this beautiful. I think: I find this beautiful so I can use that to try and bring them along with me – because I can use language that they understand. Does that makes sense? The first [challenge with using beauty in communication] is that we don’t all respond in the same way to the same things that are perceived as beautiful. I think you can lose people because they don’t share your point of view. Also, and this is maybe not quite as much of a problem maybe now as it was a while ago, but I also think with public engagement stuff and when I’m talking to people that don’t have a scientific background or maybe they have a slight scientific background – is this idea that you’re somehow dumbing things down by talking about them in terms of beauty rather than in what they perceive to be a kind of purity of science. So if you talk about something being ‘really beautiful’, they will say “no, because we know that the wavelengths of light that interact with this wing are this, and therefore that’s all it is, it’s just Bragg reflection”. But it can be Bragg reflection and be beautiful! Both can be true simultaneously, but I think for some people, maybe the explanations using beauty as a tool can possibly put them off because, and I think that has more of a relationship to how they feel about the arts in general, but I think to some people it can be seen as maybe cheapening it or maybe dumbing it down Personally I disagree with that, but that’s their opinion and they’re absolutely entitled to have it. So I try to, for example, when I do a public engagement talk, very much do a balance between the very visually stimulating, what you might think of as more objectively beautiful, and also for the people who might not respond to that some of the more fundamental scientific bits that are maybe a little bit more tedious for other people.

I believe a lot of the value of researching beauty is reliant on having good science communication to a wider audience. If one of my main arguments is knowledge of beautiful/complex systems allows us to care about them more, then power comes in numbers. We must have good pathways to share this knowledge in accessible formats to those who would experience it the least. Once again focusing on botany, moves such as introducing a GCSE in schools in Natural History is a great way to get participation in nature earlier that will inspire much needed climate action later. 

So to answer this, I think its essential we convey beauty in public engagement. I recently worked on a hydroponic project with local Bristol artists exploring what plants we would take to mars, why and how we would grow them. Our installation martian house was to be filled with hydroponic systems teeming with plants for our future space lifestyle. I got to work exploring species that would give maximum harvest in short cycles and wouldn’t suffer rooting issues under reduced gravity. Turning up to our first meeting, excel spreadsheet of ideas in hand, I was shocked to find the conversation fixed on how we would introduce levels into the hydroponic system to make it an appealing immersive experience. We focused on scented species such as lemon balm that could be used for ‘shinrin yoku’ workshops (forest bathing – process of relaxation among plants). Looking at the final product, it shows the inspiring beauty and importance of plants perfectly but the scientist in my head shouts at me ‘and how are we to sustain humanity on lemon balm???’. I think I learnt from this sometimes exactness and objectivity of science can be a hindrance when trying to convey beauty to others…. Maybe we need to let that subjectivity a bit loose?

I share things like: The elegance in which our work or models or theories reflects the reality that is around us, in a certain way. So for example, if I can demonstrate that if I just grab this pen and I drop it and if I know the weight of the pen, I can calculate exactly how long it’s going to take for it to hit the floor. It’s a very simple thing that I think can inspire people to say, well, I have no idea how you do it, but the fact that by using science you can tell me something about the world I live in – that is pretty cool on its own and then 99% of people you talk to will not think anything more about it but that 1% will say, “I think it’s very beautiful that with one equation you can show me how long it takes for any object with any weight and any shape to hit the floor”. Doing that with one pen – it’s OK, yeah, demonstrating that you can do it with any object here on the table. That is elegance, that is beauty.

What is appreciation for beauty essentially? I think every person experiences it in another way. I think as scientists, what we are most often looking for is patterns, like symmetry or you know, circular configuration or constellations or something that checks out in some way, it’s hard to explain – and that’s different for everybody, but scientists tend to like things like symmetry a lot. For somebody else, it could be something completely different, it could be a color thing. For example, we design circuit boards, electronic circuit boards have to put components on the circuit board. You can select any kind of component, capacitor,  resistor, which you do. But I find it very aesthetically appealing if there is a color palate across the circuit board. And like I say every circuit board is green, but for a fiver extra, you can also get the circuit board company to print you in red circuit boards – and a red circuit board with gold plated components looks fantastic and likewise a black circuit board with grey components looks fantastic. And functionally it’s exactly the same, but it is so much more satisfying in its own way, and likewise if I design a circuit board and just throw components on a circuit board and wire them together, it will work, but you can open any TV or laptop or any electronic system and you will notice that people have arranged components in square patterns and aligned them together and all the traces are either straight or 45 degrees. Is there a reason for that? No, because the electrons will flow regardless, but somehow as engineers we decided that it is most beautiful if all components are neatly arranged Somehow, as a community, we have decided that is the most beautiful. And only a small amount of people would ever appreciate it, because how many people open up their TV? Not that many people, but if you do it, you will see that there is actually a lot of beauty in the science and in the engineering that makes it work.

That’s why most of our [public engagement] props have transparent covers, because I want people to look inside to appreciate the engineering and the science and the technology that that makes things possible.

[Creating experiences of beauty for some few people] is definitely an important factor to me personally, because without public support there will be no continued science. Because most of the science we’re doing does not have a direct economic benefit. Like doing research on particle physics. How will the existence of muons in the upper atmosphere ever influence the quality of life of your neighbors? It is very, very unlikely and you could say the same thing about nuclear fusion itself. The official narrative is that it is the power source of the future. We disagree and we’re in the field, because it’s never going to be even remotely economically viable.It’s never going to be competitive to solar or wind power, but we’re doing it for the science. It’s a vanity project essentially. It’s a multi-billion bound vanity project that we’re building. But there is something that’s so aetheric about reproducing a star in a reactor on the planet. It is so beautiful that we think we could do that – that we feel it is responsible to invest a tremendous amount of human resources into it, not as a power source, because like I said, it’s never going to be economically viable. But it just advances our society if we are able to master this technology. And for me personally as an engineer, that makes it worth doing. And then you get onto an ethical level where I think like well there are so many other problems in society. Is it ethical to divert such a vast amount of resources to a vanity project? I think that’s a valid question and it’s something I’ve talked about with people during public engagement, for example, or people say, but I’m struggling to pay my gas bills or I have other issues, like is this really the kind of thing we want to be channeling money at? And if you look across the board, that is valid for a lot of the things we’re doing in science. How many people here in this university are working on things that will not help people to pay their gas bills or to improve their quality of life directly? I think a lot of people are, but then again, well, what do we want to leave for future generations?

 [It’s a shared experience of beauty] in the same way that artists creating a nice mural in the middle of the city is also an expression of beauty because it enhances people’s life in a certain way.

This is one of the driving factors why I chose to become a STEM ambassador. Because I find it important to communicate this appreciation. 

I have thought about it quite a lot actually, what makes a public engagement successful and what doesn’t? And I don’t see it as my job to convince people. I want people to form their own opinion, so I will not be forcing people to engage in a discussion with me. If people say “I don’t understand where you see in the beauty of this”, that’s fine. I spent 10 or 15 minutes of my time having this dissemination here, and I showed you some pictures and I showed you some live demonstrations. If you choose to walk away because you don’t appreciate it, then that is totally acceptable. Just like the same way as somebody may appreciate some abstract art and somebody else may not. Everybody has different preferences and I really appreciate that people do the effort to listen to me and give me the opportunity to talk about the work we are doing and what people take away from that is something that’s largely outside my control.Of course, I hope that people would take away something that they enjoy or like or if they think about it in bed in the evening and say well it’s interesting, or for young people I really hope it’s something that could be a life changing experience, like the reason I take robots to outreach events is because this can be a defining moment in the life of young person. Where they say I didn’t know that these robots could do that, but now I’m convinced and I want to become an engineer later as well. If only one or two or three kids in a whole evening of outreach can come to that decision and say I already had Legos in my room, but now I see what you can do with actual engineering tools, I want to become an engineer. Then I consider it as my mission accomplished.

I think [beauty is] always a positive thing. It does not harm to bring beauty however way you want to define that into the picture. Because it brings appreciation with it and most people will just skip over it. But it will be those few people who say wow somebody really did an effort here to make this beautiful in the same way that I interpret beauty, which can then be like nice color schemes or symmetry or nice patterns or elegance – and maybe different people interpret beauty as different things, but then that one person, maybe having the same appreciation for beauty as I have and then they will say like wow I really am impressed by what you did.

[You could you do public engagement without using beauty experiences] but it wouldn’t be very successful, probably. I could have a table with just some flyers, but nobody will stop to listen or to watch. If you do the effort of making a demonstration or showing a video with experiments or science in action, it engages people a lot better. So you can go there, OK, I’m just going to sit here at this empty table with a sheet of paper that says ‘please talk to me about science’. You will not have a lot of feedback on that.

I think I try and get across the point like why it’s exciting to me and why it’s interesting. I think it’s the same as – I might not be like as explicit or poetic about why it’s beautiful. I think I always do that. I think anyone who’s a good teacher will try and get that point across about why it should be exciting and interesting, to engage them. but again, not explicitly. I don’t know. I feel like I do [talk about beauty], but I don’t necessarily use the language, the word ‘beauty’ or anything like that necessarily.

I think it would be in explaining an idea, I might get excited and say “wow, it’s really cool that you have a particle or it’s entangled with another one and you go to the other side of universe, they interact with each other still somehow”. And I can show my excitement and why that’s interesting. I can’t make it interesting for someone else, I don’t think it matters how much poetry I throw on top about how cool that is, they’ve just got to be able to see it. I don’t know, but I think that that’s maybe  an emotional thing, like the way that I come across when I talk about it, and I get excited about it. That’s how I might express how beautiful I think it is.

To teach anyone, you’ve got to start from something that engages them – if they’re not engaged with what you’re telling them, you’ve got to go back a step and find something that interests them and build on that and try and bring it back to what you actually want to talk about. Like if they can see this is beautiful, then what about this and what about this and what about this. And yeah, I think you’ve got to, that’s what I mean, to be a successful researcher, or to be a successful anything, you’ve got to see this attractiveness or like this beautifulness about whatever it is you’re doing.

I wouldn’t care which [experience of beauty] they had as long as they had one of them. Personally, I think when I’ve tried to tell people about what I do and stuff before, if I can tell they’re not interested, I normally quickly give up. Like I’m not going to try and force them to enjoy the thing. That makes a difficult conversation, if I’m saying something that they’re clearly not interested in. But if they are interested, then I will continue. But I don’t push very hard if someone is not interested to make them interested.

[the challenge of using beauty in communicating about science is]  Coming across as pretentious. I think that puts people off. You can come across as a bit condescending and pretentious if you start using all these grand poetic words and saying “You should see this as beautiful, and if you don’t, I don’t know what’s wrong with you”. It’s a very fine balanced to take. I think science in general has a difficulty of trying not to come across as pretentious, because a lot of people probably see it that way. And then if you start talking about beauty and poetry, that doesn’t help. And so I don’t know, maybe that’s what I mean when I say, oh, this is cool and interesting. Maybe not using the word specifically beauty, even though it is the same thing. Don’t use too much poetry. Unless that’s what they like, I can’t do poetry though, so I wouldn’t know where to start.

If you’re both engaged in something, you’re both having a great time. It’s enjoyable, it’s enjoyable to be having engaging conversation. And the things that I find very engaging are my work and my science. Like the people I enjoy talking to a lot and the conversations I’m normally most engaged over are the ones when I’m talking about physics, to be honest.

I was a teacher. But that was quite some years ago, but more recently we have done some teaching to A level students. 

One of the certain things would be initially it might be implicit, but while you’re going round and showing specific things, there will be moments when you explicitly express your excitement. You know, because with the students, what we were trying to do was show them how to go about doing a gene editing experiment. And then as part of that we also showed them some chromosome preps and if I was suddenly finding chromosome spreads that a student had prepared really quite impressive. You’d be excited, and you would hope they would be excited by it too.

 I tend to be fairly visual person, so I never put words on slides, I put images on slides. To me a part of presentation is trying to make it attractive. So, all the images I choose are based on some aesthetic. Anything I present starts out with an aesthetic, I tend to pay attention to colours , I tend to pay attention to images, which if I say it’s a total distraction from the detail, but my mind works like that – I have to have things organized. It might be OCD or whatever you call it, but that is the way I function in the world.

There are times when a person is doing a presentation and you think, “wow, that person really done it well”. And obviously I try to produce something that’s like that, because thinking about your audience, you don’t just want them to be sitting there thinking, “oh God this is tedious”, you’re trying to make things interesting and have a progression and that the story unfolds in some sort of way. I’m not suggesting anything that I arrive at that that level, but in the back of my mind that is what I’m looking for so. If I’m doing a graph, I want it to have sort of colours that are aesthetically pleasing, and perhaps even colours that have got some relevance to the information content, you know, Reds for something negative, greens for something positive or whatever.

Yes, I would [aim for an experience of beauty for my audience in a scientific talk]. I don’t think I’ve ever arrived there. But I spend a lot of time on an individual slide and I’d say OK, even just moving things around. “Well, is that in the right place?” And that, it’s not really science, that’s just making – if a person’s going to look at this data then I’m trying to present this data in a way that maximises it. I suppose it’s the same as putting makeup on when you go out at night. You know, you’re trying to make the best of what you’ve got – and some people are good at putting makeup on, and some people are less good.

When you see any informatics and things, some of them you think, wow, they’ve really captured that. And when you see how even one of the things that used often in ours is the circos plots. Now, circos plots can be really attractive, but to my mind they’re completely void of any content ’cause I find them so difficult to interpret that often the beauty overrides the information content, so it’s like getting that balance between something that is attractive -but also something that tells you the message. ‘Cause if it doesn’t get the message across then the beauty is wasted. The beauty’s totally failed. But you want them both really. I suppose you’re putting the beauty there to say, “look at this and this is really showing something”. Yeah, it’s a complex relationship there.

There are times when I know I’m saying something, then I know I’m excited by it. Yeah, it is amazing. You see something and you’re seeing the pattern, understanding that.  So there is beauty in the information. So, I suppose you can have interesting information that’s presented beautifully, but it’s not necessarily beautiful itself. And you can have, you know, information that in itself is really fascinating. So that’s a beauty in information and I can understand it and when you’re presenting, you can, set up something as beautiful, but it’s not necessarily that the content is in itself beautiful.

They’re two different things, but they’re not equally important because if you’re a scientist trying to convey a message, the message has got to be more important than just the colors there. So, you can have really good scientists who do really good talks and don’t put any great effort into presenting it in a beautiful way. Probably I do, because I’m an insecure person. I feel that you get into all levels there. You know, why do I require more beauty? Because you might say I’m an insecure person, I don’t have a lot of faith in my science sometimes, so you might be compensating for what you feel. But it’s complex, but obviously I try to make something beautiful to hide – but I want to bring the message across. It’s all very complex.

You have to be really careful there. When you’re presenting information you know, ’cause obviously the information you’re trying to get across has got to be the important thing. That’s why you’re standing in the room.

Generally I think science is a useful career and having more people in it is good. But if you understand more about the world than you can see the beauty in it. And I think doing outreach and hoping people see a beauty in the world – that’s an amazing and beautiful thing. I think if more people saw the beauty in our world and just understood more about it then we wouldn’t be having a lot of problems which we are having here.

Yeah, I think [to create experiences of beauty is an explicit goal of public engagement]. For me, definitely I think that’s the thing I find most rewarding about that. I wouldn’t want to teach someone something against their will which they’re really not enjoying. It’s way more fun to get people excited about something where they’ve learned something interesting.

If you’ve got like a slide show, it’s always good to show some cool photos of aesthetic beauty, I think that works pretty well… Pictures of ants, but ants doing cool things, not just boring ants, I think that’s good. And you choose your content, I’m not going to talk about a Krebs cycle in an outreach talk. Well, I find the Krebs cycle quite beautiful.

I would choose information which is understandable and accessible. Because maybe if you don’t understand something, you’re probably not going to find it beautiful. Or maybe some things? Like maybe you could find quantum physics beautiful – I don’t understand it. I don’t find quantum physics beautiful. I was trying to think of a riposte to my comment, but I think comprehending something does help- does help motivate beauty, generally speaking. If I understood quantum physics I would find that more beautiful. So yeah, I think choosing something which is relatively easy to understand, which you can get excited about as well, because if you get excited about something then they also get excited about it.

I can definitely see scenarios where it would there are some animals which we find more beautiful than others for some reason. And if everyone is just trying to protect beautiful giant pandas, then we might not be looking at like the humble blobfish, which is maybe really important. I think it’s important to accept that our own rationalizations and our own views of beauty might not be best. 

You don’t want to mislead the audience into believing something even if it could appear more beautiful. Maybe the truth is kind of ugly or harder to hear and I guess the current state of the world isn’t as beautiful as it could be ’cause we’re kind of destroying it. And so maybe you can see that could be a problem, yeah.

there’s no objective way to convince people that nature has to be safe or protected. [I realised] I need to help people to fall in love with nature. So I started this Instagram account which was just to take pictures of things that I found awe-inspiring basically, or/and  beautiful. I didn’t get much following, but it was it was really nice for me, I always I would share it. I would share pictures of really, really nice sightings or stuff like that and try to inform a bit on what the context was. At some point I tried to make micro poetry about it – it wasn’t a good idea. I fell in love with nature when as a kid, thanks to my parents who exposed us to it. But you have to be exposed also in the particular context in which you feel safe and you can feel “oh, it’s really cool.”, and see how it links to you.

The thing is, we don’t have that many tools. I mean, we have arts, which of course are amazing. But often I think it would be nice to just show people that you can use science basically as a shortcut to access nature in a totally different way, and experience nature in a very different way. And now I think I’ve kind of distilled it a bit better whilst talking to you, but I think that was the underlying theme for me, I was trying to show hey, you know what, you can just check things out, and turn some rocks over and then you can then check on Wikipedia you know what it was. 

When I’m explaining my research to people, I definitely need to engage [the sense of beauty] in some way ’cause otherwise people don’t wanna hear about algorithms to study genome evolution, especially that it’s so abstract that in the end you need to, like, figure things out. I figured out that the way to explain my research is that I build robots, that they look at genomes and then tell me what they mean. Because I was always wondered how do I explain to a kid like what I do? It’s so hard! And then with robots, you can at least strike awe into kids and maybe beauty to kids? 

I mean, I think, inevitably, yes. Because, I mean there’s ways of engaging with people and you can have like deadpan face and we’re talking about, [boring voice] “well what we do, we work with…”  I don’t know. I’m gonna go like free, [boring voice]“proteins that link ….” and then people will [be bored] – or of course you can be like engaging, like [interesting clear voice] “you see this thing though this, and that and that!” – They everyone will be glued to it. So in that sense yes, you know, I communicate, at least my interest and awe

Yeah, maybe [beauty]’s somewhere when you create that connection with the person and the object. I think like first you have to open their eyes and once they look closer at the ant, then start to realize what’s going on. That’s when they also start to see the beauty in the thing. And I think that’s true for a Lot of things. We go through our life with our eyes mostly closed, just focusing on a few things and as soon as someone opens your eyes to a specific topic. Be it you know, how cool the surface of a blueberry is, you start to realize, Oh, how cool is that?! Like, how beautiful is the surface of a blueberry? So I think that’s, when it comes to public engagement, that’s what you yeah, you’re trying to open the eyes of the people. Then the rest of the questions come along.

Yeah, I think [there can be challenges too – ] Certain topics you just don’t get people to see that they’re actually beautiful, exciting and interesting. Maybe it’s because there’s some just barrier that you can’t cross that easily, like. I know spiders. There’s a lot of people where you don’t get there – “How beautiful are spiders” just because they’re so afraid of spiders? But even there, I think it’s possible. Yeah, for example I had a bird spider for a few years. She was [gestures large size with hands] I had her when she was very little, and then seeing her grow and then remember there was someone who was [very scared] “It’s a spider!!” And then seeing that Spider grow and the different colors – at the beginning it was very blue and in in the end it was a mix between blue and red. And seeing, seeing that process… It took a long time, but in the end. She was like, “oh, she’s so beautiful”. Still not touching her, but she’s, you know, she’s beautiful. And before that, it was like “I don’t want to be in a room with a spider” and afterwards, OK, as long as she’s in the cage, she can actually enjoy the spider. So yeah, I think sometimes it’s not possible to open someone’s eyes, but if you manage, it’s even better.

I mean the conversation you get most of the time with people is they say “what you do?” – I say “I do this” and give a very broad explanation for plant science and they say “And what do you wanna do with it?” almost always there’s the assumption is that the reason you do certainly plant science is because there ought to be some kind of translational [use] goal at the end of it. And so I have a stock response of saying, “well, we don’t know – because it’s fundamentally interesting, and I guess that’s a beauty that I’m trying to find out – in this case about how plants evolved, isn’t that wonderful? and doing science for science sake is worthy” – And then we also do it, because if you find about this, it might be able to increase crop yields as well. So I think I always try and push both ways: that we do science because science itself is important. It’s crucial to understand the world around us, but also as doing that on the side, whether it’s purposefully, or in the serendipitous manner, we can also make these discoveries that actually have impactful benefits as well

I think people get it, it depends, you know, it’s a bit personal if you’re animated and you’re looking genuinely excited by it, it’s easiest way to convince people of the beauty of something. If you talk to someone, it’s the way you do it. [boring voice] “Well, I think it’s beautiful about plants.” They’re less likely to be convinced.

But if you say [interesting voice], “Well, you know, plants didn’t always look like this, they colonized the land 5,000,000 years ago and before that they were just singleton algae, but look at all the plants you see around today. And what was that ancestral plant? What did it look like? How did it make shoots?” I think if you explain things that kind of manner and enthusiastic manner that people understand, I think you can convey an excitement definitely and hopefully an interest or beauty to it.

A week ago exactly I was doing public engagement with kids. I made a poster, I’m very proud of my poster, it had a nice big cartoon of a plant and I laminated some fruits and veg chopped out. Your aubergine, your cauliflower, your celery, I put a bit of Velcro on and got the kids to stick on the plant where they thought that bit of fruit of veg came from and I thought it looked pretty cool. 

The physical display of bits they could like touch and play with and that was really nice. I was quite proud about this display because we brought down a couple of passion flowers and wheats and spelts and maize so it was a visually impressive display and I think that was important because this was dealing with eight to twelve year olds, so if it had just been a poster and a few stalks of broccoli, they would have been a lot less encouraged to actually come and say hello, and I think with the little jungle we had, that was important. And with that age group you really have to be over the top promoting the beauty of plants, I think just to keep them with you. Maybe it comes across as disingenuous, I don’t know, but I was really focused on being very enthusiastic. You know the idea there I was trying to push – which I think is a beautiful – is it a beautiful idea? Maybe not – is ‘There’s no such thing as a vegetable’. Because if you think of vegetables, you know you think of a potato, which is a shoot. You think of a carrot, which is a root, you think of a celery, which is a leaf blade or leaf petiole. You think of lettuce, which is a leaf. And all these things which you call a vegetable, it’s meaningless. I mean, that’s not a beautiful idea, it’s an interesting idea.

I guess the beauty in ‘there’s no such thing as a vegetable” is because plants’ anatomy is beautiful. That’s the beauty there really. It’s like wow you eat all these things and they all come from plants, but they all come from different parts of the plant. Isn’t that beautiful? You know, that we’re able to exploit what nature has given us and domesticated it in many ways to actually produce, – brussels sprouts for example, and that’s the beautiful part I think you’re trying to convince them and you’re using the question, ‘is there no such thing as a vegetable’ as something to hang that on.

I don’t know if I used the word beautiful with them. I was certainly trying to convey that I was excited by it and it was interesting and amazing. And, you know, because when you eat a strawberry what you’re really eating is the flower receptacle rather than the fruit, and all the fruits are like the little yellow bits the outside  “- wow, that’s cool, isn’t it guys?” and you know broccoli is basically the same thing as a cauliflower, but it’s just slightly different mutations in the same flower and that’s, I don’t know if I would ever use the word beautiful there.

[But if] you didn’t have anything to back it up with, you’d appear almost like a charlatan: look at my amazing, incredible display, but actually, I don’t know I’m talking about. You’ve got to link to the science or you know it has to be an intrinsically linked to a research question, actually, the  beauty of it. 

The most common response when I spoke to the kids was “well, if there’s no such thing as a vegetable, we don’t have to eat them anymore!”. But I think if you’re thinking of science and what’s the beautiful thing about it, it is discovering what science is. It’s just discovering about the world around us fundamentally and then analysing it in a methodical way So if a child starts thinking, oh, you know what actually what I’m calling a potato and a carrot a vegetable. Actually, they’re two completely different parts of plants, even though they live underground.. That’s pretty cool. Not as cool as the mindset I think I’d really rather give them a kind of intrinsic beauty, but I think they’re probably just interchangeable, really : “cool”, “neat”, “neat-o”. 

But yeah, you have to do that outreach, because if you just turn up and say look at my graph. I’ve done all these experiments and I’ve shown this, nah no one cares. And you have to get people engaged and then the outreach event I did before this one was another kind of Science Festival and we had just had basically a lot of a whole lot of nice plants showcasing the range of plant form in Land Plant evolution. So we had that Moss, we had a like a lycophyte, a fern and some algae and some flowering plants.It’s basically the whole spectrum of land plant form and you try and basically show it to people say. “That’s cool, isn’t it?” And actually, it’s hard to get really people to – you might be really impressed by it yourself, but you know they don’t think “oh a Fern doesn’t make flowers. Is that interesting? I don’t really think so”, or “ferns and lycophytes evolved leaves independently”. I think it’s not engaging enough I think you’ve gotta, certainly with kids, you’ve gotta get doing things and actually involved. And if it’s just a one-way presentation, it’s never gonna work. You gotta be engaging. You gotta ask questions if it’s a lecture. However exciting you are, people are going to zone out, whereas if you say OK, what’s your favorite fruit or vegetable? what’s in your kitchen right now? Or do you grow things? And trying to kind of ease in that way in OK, so where does a radish come from and I think that’s really the best way to engage certainly with kids is to actually get them interacting with you in a kind of two way system. 

Yes – I already spend quite a lot of time trying to make posters/presentations for public engagement both visually appealing and as accessible as possible through colours, font etc, so having beautiful science alongside it is important to me, and I wouldn’t be afraid to refer to a plot or something like that as beautiful. Again, I feel like this sentiment is more understood in scientific contexts as opposed to outreach – quite often science is seen as something of utility as opposed to something beautiful generally.

I am not 100% sure if what I have done before is directly linked to the idea of consciously using ideas about beauty when doing public engagement. Yet, I always try to explain why I love the organisms and ecosystems I study. Among the reasons, I bring both scientific information linked to their relevance, but also my own experiences on the reasons I find insects and forests beautiful, and what makes me feel excited and privileged to research them. I have done this a few times with traditional communities and students in the country where I do my research, and I think being able to express how I feel about what I do along with the science behind it increases engagement and public interest in my research. For me, the hardest challenge sometimes is to translate the idea of finding beauty even in organisms that are not visually attractive and/or that rely on detritus for their survival. To address this, sometimes I try to highlight the importance of these organisms for multiple processes and maintaining healthy ecosystems, showing that their beauty is related to the organisms’ contributions rather than their appearance or what it eats. 

6. There are lots of positive things that aren’t linked to ‘beauty’, or only partially, in research. What other positive elements would you use to describe the encounter with research? (for example experiences of curiosity, intrigue, satisfaction, achievement, interest, surprise, pleasure, wonder, usefulness) How important are they with respect to experiences of beauty? Do they apply to different parts of research?

I think for a lot of people, you’ve got the “I went into science ’cause I wanted to make the world a better place” type thing. I’m not going to lie and say that there was anything altruistic about it at all, there really wasn’t, I went into science because I was good at it and I liked it. And I found beauty along the way and I think what I did actually was for me, I was able to contextualize the things before I’d started doing science that I’d liked as a child, I was able to then sort of with more scientific knowledge say “Oh my God, these are actually really beautiful – this is why I liked it, it’s ’cause it’s beautiful and also it’s fascinating and I’m curious about it”. 

I like puzzles, I’m a big fan of anything that – give me a crossword or Sudoku or anything like that, any kind of puzzle and I’m happy for hours and so for me one of the big things about science was it was a puzzle. And there were things that people didn’t know and I wanted to be the first person to know them and I wanted to be the first person who figured it out. And there is, to me, kind of sometimes an inherent beauty in being the person who solves something, because the solution itself can be very beautiful. So we figured out a couple of years ago why a particular material behaves like it does, and you know it was such an elegant solution. It was such a beautiful solution, and when we looked back on it, we’re thought God, it was so obvious, like it was really quite straightforward when we thought about it, but we didn’t know until we looked into it, and so for me there’s a satisfaction of being the first to figure something out and to be able to rigorously prove something, and to be confident with the level of detail that you’ve gone into and so that, to me, is another driver, but I don’t think I would get the satisfaction of solving the puzzle, that I do, unless the process of solving it and the solution didn’t have an element of beauty in them. So I think again, it’s a concept that I can’t really decouple. I find it’s a thread that weaves through most things I do, and sometimes I think about it more and sometimes it comes to the fore and other times it doesn’t.

Well-being and happiness is a very important motivation for me in everything. If I could see that there could be some science which I could do, which was going to bring a lot of happiness or well-being to a huge amount of people, even if I don’t find it personally beautiful then I would probably do that. That’s a big motivation for me. There’s two scientific avenues I could go down: One of them would be staying in, animal collective behavior, which is something I find very beautiful and very exciting, but it might not be the best vehicle for producing the most well-being in the world. The other avenue would be working on some kind of problem which is applied at a more human level or even reducing animal suffering, just improving overall happiness and well-being in the world.

I guess satisfaction is to do with you finding something out, and then there’s curiosity and interest, which a lot of people would describe as a major motivator in science. For me, I don’t see curiosity per se as a motivation. I feel like curiosity is more just the feeling you get when you’re in pursuit of something like beauty. So, like, curiosity wouldn’t be my goal because curiosity is like the path to the goal, right? Something you get along the way.

I think personal satisfaction is very important. Even if I thought something would produce a reasonable amount of good in the world, if it was just going to make me, horribly unhappy, I probably wouldn’t do it. Part of that is also ’cause I think if you’re horribly unhappy, you’re going to be less able to work and be productive and then therefore further reveal beauty or well-being into the future. So maybe it all feeds back. 

I don’t know but satisfaction on completing an experiment or seeing a project through is good – which I think is something different from overall personal satisfaction, something more important, more permanent. So I would be more inclined to do something which is for that more kind of permanent satisfaction, rather than these fleeting moments.

Ultimately [‘interest’ is not in the constellation of things to do with beauty], but it’s on the way there. It’s related in some way, but quite distantly,

There’s the relation to problem solving. Part of it is presumably the change in state – it’s the relief when you stop banging your head against the wall. You’re doing something trying to tackle a difficult problem which has quite a lot of negative valence. You know it’s hard, you don’t know what the answer is, and the bigger the problem, the more frustrating it is, the greater the sense of achievement and success when you solve it. And you know, part of that is tapping into the same sort of hormone systems that are involved in other forms of excitement, but generated in a different way. That’s the same as tension followed by relief in a horror film, you know you’re experiencing something really bad (!) and then it’s all right. I don’t think that’s got anything to do with beauty. 

Beauty is linked to several emotions and states it isn’t. It isn’t an emotion in itself, is it? So I don’t think it’s going to be something that everyone finds in the same way in the same things. I guess there may be people who find nothing beautiful just like there might be people who find different things beautiful.

Something that also may link to different people’s senses of beauty is whether for some people there’s some element of synesthesia, where some senses or feelings expressed in one context, they’re actually evoking experiences and feelings which other get people get by different routes. I haven’t thought it through.  But uhm, I think it’s certainly possible just in the same way as some people are much more moved by music than they are by art and vice versa.

It’s absolutely true that curiosity is a huge part I would identify with and I think that that feeds from a that sense of wonder, and sort of a delight in what I experience in the natural world and then the curiosity comes from: why is that the case? How is that the case?  What impacts that? changes that? 

And then I think there’s the strong, really strong emotional driver of, even maybe, desperation of wanting to protect or at least support these elements of a natural system and I think that that comes from that sense of wonder – it also ties into just the beauty of something like that to exist in of itself, you know, independent of my interaction with it. So I think, then in terms of also in science, those are probably more my drives than my emotional response, then desire for success or… I think those are basically the core to it, is a wonder and enjoyment and fascination, a delight in what is and why, about these natural systems. And then with that comes a sense of emotional sense of responsibility as well for protecting the inherent value of those places.

[Those emotions are] definitely not disconnected from beauty. I definitely think that is a source of beauty. I think that that is probably fundamental to any interpretation of beauty that I might have, linked to the science that I do or the scientific world. Yeah, fundamentally. I suppose I think maybe they’re not completely the same, but I think that they are inseparable, and I suppose I would argue that those emotional ties are probably there for anyone who experiences a profound sense of beauty, whatever it might be, the source of it might be. Maybe that’s a bit of claim, but I think so…

My personal drive is curiosity, honestly. But also I’m a genuine communicator. I like people to care about what I care about and I invest a lot into making that happen. If there are students that we educate into the outreach you do well in the papers. I work a lot with the BBC, so if they create beauty, that’s what they’re selling. But beauty might be different things – like the latest David Attenborough, it’s actually very depressing, but it’s still beautiful to me. 

My curiosity is to try and understand things and when you really understand them, in my mind, that is revealing beauty. So biology to me is fundamentally beautiful, and that could be the ecology of the dungheap say not ‘beautiful-beautiful’, but the beauty is in what you reveal with your curiosity-driven approach. So yeah, some really God-ugly bats can be super beautiful.

I think it’s probably a mentality thing. So I can think that two mathematicians discovering the same formula: one of them would be very matter of factly and think of it as just my work. But the other one would find it deeply inspiring and beautiful that he has done the same discovery. So I think it might be a subjective way of approaching your career. For me, I’m unhappy if I don’t find beauty, and that usually tells me that something isn’t quite right. So if it doesn’t feel beautiful, that means I haven’t gotten the full picture yet, I need to keep trying harder. And then when you when you see beauty, you know it’s finished. A bit like when a kid does a painting, when does it kid know that that drawing is finished? To me, maybe there is this hard-to-grasp concept of completeness: OK now this story is beautiful. And now I can put the paper out there.

I think [lots of different feelings/ emotions] overlap all of it, you know? Yeah, I don’t know. It really comes down on how narrow you want to try to define these things – or separate interest from beauty and excitement or like what is it when I look at the ants? Is it that I think they’re just beautiful, like a painting of art? I dunno. Or is it excitement? Like it’s doing something, I’m excited.  Is this excitement beauty, then? No, probably not. But also, maybe in the brain it does something similar? Like it’s experiencing some kind of I don’t know probably endorphine release or whatever, and it doesn’t matter if that’s now excitement? Uh, I don’t know. Just like, I want to know what she’s doing next. Is it just oh, it’s beautiful or whatever? Looking at the ants it can be hundreds of things. And it’s just difficult to say. I mean, before today I wouldn’t have thought about saying “feeding ants is beautiful”. And it’s like, well, actually when I see the ants and look at them and how they behave I, I do think, that’s beautiful and before I would have for sure said it’s interesting, so, I think it’s excitement, interesting, whatever. And that creates some kind of neural response, that then it could be defined as beautiful. Even though people wouldn’t say, I don’t know, it’s beautiful – in the first place.

Yeah, obviously, I don’t know, money or competitiveness. I don’t think beauty is the only motivation, but I think it’s the best one because I think it’s the only way you can really get good at it. I don’t know, I feel like other sources of motivation aren’t going to drive you enough. I don’t know, even if it is for money, if you work on something enough, I think eventually you will see it as beautiful. Lots of other people who do science might not say they see it as beautiful, but really I think they do. They must, to do that well at it and spend hours sitting and staring at it. Even if they say they’ve got other motivations, they must see something in it. They can’t just be doing that, because otherwise it would be boring.

I guess, ego. Or the opposite of that? Like not wanting to fail – I don’t know, they’re two sides of the same coin? Just to sustain yourself, it’s a job for some people at the end of the day.

I think it’s the same, curiosity and beauty. They’re just different words for the same thing, maybe describing them in slightly different ways, [ if you’re interested in something] you experience it as beautiful.

I think for me, this may be very similar to beauty but it’s not the same thing: a sense of awe and wonder, the unknowns and like what is it that we don’t we don’t understand about this, and that sort of thing. That’s very motivating for me. And finding answers to things, being able to solve puzzles and that sort of mystery is something that definitely is motivational

I think they sometimes are [connected to beauty], but not necessarily. I don’t think they always are. You know that sense of problem solving, being able to find an answer to something. It’s just a very satisfying thing. 

And I think as well the sense of responsibility, of having to do something because of the knowledge I have about the problems that we face. If I wasn’t doing something that I felt was contributing to finding solution, I would find that difficult. So there’s a responsibility, there’s a kind of feeling of like we need to do this, and I’m someone who, because of the education I’ve had, because of the pathways I’ve chosen, I am well equipped to actually do something. And so I must do that. I would say that’s probably more distantly related [to beauty], and that also sometimes can come from quite a negative space of sadness and frustration and feeling guilty, about the state of the world. So, that can actually sometimes come quite negative emotions, but then it’s the sort of counterbalance to it: OK, well yes, I could feel really sad and stressed and terrible about these things, but well you gotta do something then.

Personally for me, I find beauty in things working together. Yeah, like for example Large Hadron Collider at CERN. It’s an incredibly complex puzzle where you have cryogenic pumps and liquid helium flowing through electromagnet and pumped particles going at nearly the speed of light through a circular tube that’s under vacuum and as supported by so many auxiliary systems. I see beauty in that because all of these different pieces of the puzzle has to come together, just like when you make like a puzzle on a desk and you put the last piece of the puzzle in place, it gives you some degree of satisfaction, so does the very large physics experiment like the LHC  give me a lot of satisfaction as a physicist and an engineer. I guess it’s like completing the piece of the puzzle. But on a massive scale where you just sit back, and see wow, this is spectacular feat. 

Satisfaction very often is [linked with beauty] – Sometimes it’s not, so if you just build a very large cryo distillation column, for example in a chemical plant – it’s spectacular, it’s satisfying if it’s completed and finished. It’s not necessarily beautiful.

In my experience curiosity is a driving factor, if you wouldn’t be curious, you wouldn’t be doing science. If you already knew what you were going to find then what’s the point of the quest of exploration. It is related in the sense that if there is the promise of finding something beautiful, you would be more eager to explore. So anything like, you could do an Easter egg hunt without there being any Easter eggs hidden. But it would just be a lot less fun if you knew in advance that there’s not Easter eggs hidden. Yeah, so the promise of me discovering something beautiful.

My most regular feeling at work is frustration. Why didn’t this experiment work, again? I think when you find something out that’s novel and you’ve demonstrated something. Yeah, I think find there’s beauty in that. I guess what I’m just if I run a gel, for example, I’m trying to clone a bit of DNA. You can visualize it on a gel, see the bands [it makes]. You know, maybe I think that’s beautiful, but maybe what I’m thinking, you know as beauty is actually really just pride or relief. First time I started working, I started work on Moss, I used to work on moss. And when I started working, you know you grow up these little moss plants from the individual cells and they bloom and they’re cute little things, I thought, you know what, that is quite beautiful because moss doesn’t really get a lot of kudos. There are moments of beauty, just also, waves of failure.

Sometimes it’s hard to kind of step back and think about the curiosity if you’re so head down trying to make a PCR work, you know it’s very easy to forget the bigger picture, why I’m doing this. The bits of science I enjoy most really I think are the most beautiful parts we discussed earlier. I’m putting together a proposal: This is what I want to do. Because it’s setting that bigger picture that kind of broader context of the world around it, or it’s then at the end, you’ve done all this work and putting it together and trying to tell a beautiful story about what you’ve done. And then it’s the curiosity bits, the bits in the middle, which are by far the longest bits where you’re doing a lab work, in my case, to answer the questions, that’s rarely beautiful. 

Although I’m thinking of I’ve gotta de-stain some plants today, but I’m expressing a blue stain, so where a gene is expressed, it will turn blue in the plants and that is actually an opportunity to test and see – well, look at that Moss plant, you got blue here, you don’t have blue there, that’s pretty, 

When you have discrete moments like that, if you can really visualize something, and in this case no one knows about this gene and where this gene’s expressed. I now know that it’s expressed here, that’s cool. Or if you got some gene, suppose more like genes, but if you get to a point along this journey where you’ve got the end result of an experiment and you can clearly see an actual pattern, yeah, they are beautiful stepping stones along the kind of journey to discovery. It’s the kind of piecework bits along the way, and the repetitions and the kind of null results are the bits where you struggle.

Ha! Only now, with this question, I realised that what I consider as beautiful may be related to my experiences of curiosity, satisfaction, interest, wonder and usefulness! I haven’t even thought about the links (or differences) between these positive elements and beauty but will respond by trying to follow the same structure from the previous questions. I think all these positive elements mentioned in the question are very relevant to my experiences of beauty in research. This is because I find beauty in trying to understand how things work; in being able to address my curiosities; feeling satisfied and pleased to wonder in ecosystems and see organisms that I feel intrigued about, and in translating biodiversity responses into figures and words to discuss my findings with others. I believe these positive elements can be applied to different parts of research, as well as be a source of motivation to be a scientist across the different steps of both the scientific process and academic career.

I’ve spent most of my life just being a postdoc – so perhaps I’ve never really followed the things which 100% motivate me. You know when there’s been money available, I’ve been taken on. So, you become interested in what is providing you a living. And it’s scientific, so you enjoy being a biologist, and you enjoy the general things about it, but it’s not necessarily the things I’ve done or the things I would have chosen to do if I’d been given a free hand in choosing. So one of the motivations is that it’s given me three years more employment, and that is vitally important when you see it coming to the end of a contract, you’re thinking my God and you’re not thinking about beauty, you’re thinking about where your next pay packets coming from.

You take on your project, and slowly you begin to discover, not necessarily, but you begin to discover the beauty in what you’re doing. That might be part of being a scientist for some scientists as well. As a “jobbing scientist” like me, it’s that you discover beauty continuously, if you’re taking a new project, and “oh well, what I’m doing now?” – you suddenly find, “yeah, there’s something fascinating in that” -”Oh, there’s something fascinating in that!”. Rather than being the super-intellectual professor who’s gone on and they’ve followed their path and they’ve become a great expert in some area. They might have an intellectual concept of beauty, which is far, far beyond where mine is. 

Things that I say to my kids : why study at school? ‘Cause the more things you know, the more you find life beautiful. So the more you understand – it’s better to know things, because that allows you to enjoy the world more. As you discover things, you enjoy the world more. Little by little, you get to know a bit more about it and it becomes interesting. You get interested in that and I’m sure that’s the same with that whichever job you’re doing when you’ve more interested in it and then you can start discovering the beauty in it.

” What happens if we do this?” That’s got to be somewhere in the draw of being a scientist, don’t know quite where that fits, or how important that is in the scale. Perhaps for me, it’s not been all that important ‘cause I have never been one of these people. If you were really curious, you would probably set up a lot more experiments, and I’ve never been a setter of experiments, so it would suggest that curiosity is  not necessarily a major component of my approach.

Curiosity, hands down. I realized that that is my absolute engine. I don’t think I could have curiosity without awe, I don’t think you can have awe without beauty. I’m making it very confusing now, I realize. When people go on a hike, I’m stopping all the time to flip rocks and see what’s under and be amazed like “Oh my God, I found this”.  The first sighting of an animal for me, it is amazing, and I will remember it usually. I cannot have curiosity without awe. in the sense that when I am in awe of something, I also want to learn more about it. Which then makes me engage with it in a curious way. And then? Often it leads to beautiful insights.

Then there’s of course happiness. There are also negative feelings – not nice feelings, let’s say. Frustration is a big one, I don’t have to tell you that I guess, you are also researcher.

I think it’s important to recognise that there are many different elements – for example, I don’t find the planning stage of research particularly beautiful as it tends to be very practically focused, but it is a positive part of the process and inherently useful – we couldn’t find the beautiful data or make the beautifully designed chips without this stage.  There are lots of positives associated with the research progress – for example, curiosity in reading and achievement in completion and production of ideas, as well as negatives such as feeling disheartened when things aren’t working – but perhaps this adds in to making any potential positive feelings along the way more poignant?<

I actually was about to think to say motivation bit, which has to do with the current situation of the world. At some point, I think it’s like a growth of yourself. I see beauty, I want to understand it – I do this bridge – but then you develop a sense of duty somehow, and say OK. I did that, that energy brought me here. But now, I have to do the job – it’s my duty to understand it to or to protect it. And so there is a sense of urgency and of duty that helps you keep going  -that you feel when doing science and this is like the motivational part, but also there is just frustration and OK, I just want to go in the woods and be done with all of this, because that’s also 80% of the time [you’re in it] for the system, not for the science itself.

I feel it as a motivation for sure – curiosity and interest and interest by itself about the topic, about something even if it cannot touch the beauty sphere. I’m interested in this topic or in this process, even if it’s not something where I feel that beauty sensation. But it can be related also, this is a bit tricky, I think curiosity could be, you just wanting more of that beauty.You see what I mean? Because you think “I’m curious about this thing, because once I understand these things, I can see its beauty.” 

7. Some research has hypothesised that sources of beauty in science can be broken down to a few different themes. Which of these do you think you’d agree you find to be important sources of beauty, and which do you think aren’t so important to you personally?

a. Beauty comes from the experience of awe and wonder

b. Beauty comes from the experience of truth

c. Beauty comes from an experience of ‘seeing the world anew’ or a change in perspective

d. Beauty comes from an encounter with something that produces pleasure

I like all of those to be honest. I think trying to find the truth is what motivates me and that’s what I find beautiful – like finding, oh this is true and this is true, which means this is true, which means this is true. I find that very attractive, but other people might not. 

Awe and wonder, I think everyone can appreciate that, but in different ways, I think that might be what you see in the truth. 

Pleasure: I do get a lot of pleasure out of it, I do. I enjoy my job, like I sit and do whatever it is I’m doing. I can spend hours doing it because it’s enjoyable. Maybe not like the same sort – obviously not like being on a roller coaster kind of enjoyment. It’s a slow release sort of enjoyment you get out of it, which maybe takes a bit of patience to get. And then ‘seeing the world anew’? definitely that. As I just said, you build your understanding up and you can see things in a very different way and I think that’s very attractive.

I think the first two are my experience of beauty and the other two are my application of beauty to inspire others. I can see beauty being used as something for my enjoyment, and a tool that I use for somebody else’s enjoyment. I think that the first two fall more in the first category, but fundamentally, they’re just different aspects of exactly the same thing. They’re not in different boxes.If you do it right all of these come together.

All of them do, to varying degrees. So the truth one in terms of finding the answer to a problem or understanding why something is as it is, or what causes what: that sort of truth. I’m quite happy with the concept of truth and absolute truth. Something is right and something is wrong.

Awe and wonder, I’m happy with that too, because I described that in the sense of appreciating landscapes and things – as grandeur. And a scientific theory that can explain a vast range of phenomena has that sort of sense of grandeur. Producing pleasure, I mean, that’s kind of trivially obvious, isn’t it?

Changing your perspective – that fits my sense of finding an explanation that’s really neat. You know I hadn’t thought of that, yeah, that fits! And that’s some of the way towards being beautiful, but I think beautiful is a bit too grand a term for something that’s just neat.

All four, I like all four – at different points when I’ve been doing various things some of them will be more important than others, so they’re not like a kind of equally distributed set of truths. And I think they are they’re all relevant. I would say the awe and wonder thing is probably the smallest one, but there is there is a sense of awe and wonder when you, I know it sounds ridiculous, when you see a new piece of equipment for the first time that somebody has had to design and build, and it’s there and it’s shiny and it’s working and it’s beautiful. I genuinely am quite awestruck sometimes that somebody was able to do this, and I think it’s such a wonderful example of how creative we are as a species that people can make this stuff. I just don’t know how they do it, it’s incredible. I think the others, and certainly a better understanding of reality and an understanding of truth. That to me, yeah, that feels like a kind of a thread that runs through everything. I think using beauty as a way of bringing people close to reality, I think is showing people you know the actual reality that – things are beautiful, science is beautiful. It’s very easy I think in some disciplines to do this when you’ve got like you know, JWST data of far-off galaxies and they are actually just stunning to look at. But I think we can all use this idea of the beauty inherent in understanding. And the way that we can explain the world around us.

I definitely I agree with all of them. I think that experiences of awe and wonder, definitely very strongly I would agree with. And I like that idea of seeing things anew. I think that it’s that sense of discovery and that sense of being able to understand something or view something in a way that you didn’t have before. And yeah, I really like that, I agree with that. It’s interesting to have it distilled down into those points. I feel like they’re actually all very related in a way, you know are those points even separate points in some ways? But yeah, I think they sum it up very nicely. I wouldn’t say that there are any that are less important. I didn’t think they’re less important. But I suppose in mentioning [awe and wonder, and seeing things anew], maybe that’s how I would describe it. Those feel like things that I would say perhaps. But I agree with all of them.

I think that there’s [also] an important thing about science and religion.  And I’m not a religious person myself, but I would consider myself to be perhaps a spiritual person, and I think that some of that sense of spirituality is very much through the way that I feel about nature. And connection through nature. And I think that you know, I sometimes work with groups and that are religious groups, or people that have particularly religious backgrounds and that I think a lot of these things that we’ve just been talking about are the same things that people experience through religion. And it’s something that I would be fascinated to know more about. I’m sure there are people who studied these things. But I think that’s an important thing because there’s so many people, for who that’s their starting point. They would jokingly say that science is like my religion – it’s that thing for me. And so, yeah, anyone can have that. 

So, awe and wonder, usually. I think they’re usually related to beauty in the sense that appreciation is tightly coupled to awe and wonder. Same thing like if you, for example would go to the pyramids. If you’re standing next to it, you will be inspired by its size, its geometries, awe and wonder. If you would go to another pyramid in Mexico, they would say wow, that’s smaller but still sure, yeah, awe and wonder. Yeah, if you go to South America and you see what from the aspect here are also very nice pyramid, if you see 10 more pyramids. Then the awe and wonder isn’t there anymore because you’re not that amazed by it anymore. So novelty is definitely a driving factor. Surprise is definitely also I think a driving factor – it doesn’t mean that the 10th pyramid is less beautiful, but…

Seeing the world anew…. So we already have it in perspective if you understand like with the computer thing you understand that what people did before you require vastly more work than what we’re currently doing. Well that is a changing perspective. You’ve realized that you know the work you’re doing now is much less spectacular than you thought it was because you realized that the achievements of people before you with less resources are not much more spectacular, and I’ve seen it with my students quite often when they go to the lab and they grab a 3D printer. And they grew up with 3D printers and you just design something in Inventor or in SolidWorks and you put it on the printer and then the next day you have your physical object there with all the holes and all the exact dimensions, and then students take it for granted. But then I say well, you know, 30 years ago, if you wanted this, you’d have to first buy a piece of plastic and put it under a milling machine and put it on the lathe and put it under drill press to drill the hole and if you made a single mistake and had to start all over again. Yeah, so that is the changing perspective if you tell somebody like back then how it was. You can do the same thing, but it was a lot harder. Yeah, people understand it. And then if you take people to things like in 1970s, steam fired engines for example. Yeah, things like you know, you could now build also steam engine and a train, but people then did it without computers, without CAD. Without 3D printers every single part and there’s thousands of parts in a steam engine had to be manufactured on the lathe on the milling machine, people spent years drawing it on massive sheets of paper because there was no computer. That is the change in perspective that is awe of understanding that well, I put myself in another context now.

I’m gonna skip over the truth one. I think that’s too abstract for me.

And then, as an encounter with something that produces pleasure. That’s I think a very difficult one, because what do you define as pleasure. Satisfaction is pleasure. Like I said, completing the puzzle and saying it’s finished now. That is definitely satisfaction. Completing an experiment and seeing how a nice curve is forming and you know, if I do one more sample, it’s probably going to end up exactly on the curve that I already have. That is satisfaction. For me that is pleasure. You know, building something, turning it on, sometimes it turns into smoke, sometimes it works. Yeah, the moment you flip it a lot of engineers compare this to like an intellectual orgasm, and because you work towards this for so long: you did mechanical, electronics design, you program. That they never knew if it works. And then there is a magical moment where you turn it on and it’s like, ah. It comes to life – that is satisfaction. For an engineer that is pleasure and that translates in appreciating the beauty of your creation.

I would definitely associate beauty with the experience of awe and wonder. I think the first three are definitely connected – if you have an experience, you learn something new about the universe and that is an experience of truth. And perhaps that can produce this change of perspective or an experience of awe, they feel definitely connected to me. 

Beauty as an encounter with something that produces pleasure? That probably wouldn’t be so much my definition of beauty or how I see it. It’s more just hedonism really. A lot of things produce pleasure which aren’t to me at least, beautiful. It is my view that you can see beauty in anything, even beauty in something which produces the opposite of pleasure.

Just thinking about the universe and how much there is that we don’t know, and the fact that it exists and is quite absurd. I think that is an experience of beauty. And some things are aesthetically beautiful as well and we just don’t understand how they work. That would for me be an experience of awe and wonder.

 I don’t know if I would feel so much that beauty as the experience of truth resonates with me so much.  I’m just getting lost in semantics now, but maybe just experiencing an understanding of how things work is beautiful. But when someone says “ah-ha this person is responsible for the crime, not this person.” That’s not an experience of beauty for me, maybe it’s interesting, but I don’t think that’s beautiful.

As a closer experience with reality? I think there’s many ways of experiencing, all subjective experiences are such a thin slice of reality, but they’re just completely untrue really. We can have experiences in those which are beautiful ones. People can take psychedelics and see some other crazy things and have experiences of beauty there. Maybe you would argue that’s even further away from truth or fundamental reality. So I don’t think truth is necessarily a prerequisite. But also I’ve had experiences where there’s a way of looking at the world at the more fundamental level. I think we live on a relative level and we can experience beauty there, but there’s also a more fundamental level where you can really live the experiences of not seeing boundaries between objects and everything just being a kind of continuous impermanent soup. And I think that is an incredibly useful and more fundamental level. Which is maybe truth.

Seeing the world anew and change in perspective. Yeah, I would consider that a form of beauty. A change in perspective? I don’t know, my perspective changes all the time. And if it’s just learning something about something, I mean, you change perspective on that thing, that is beautiful. To maybe some kind of spiritual awakening which you find beautiful on the larger scale for yourself. But I think even those more personal ones can be quite impermanent.

All four make sense. For me. I guess it’s the awe, certainly the awe. How all plants developed, it’s amazing. There is a natural beauty to that. And I mean, I struggle, you know, I mean truth and reality I don’t bother with, that’s too big a question for me. Maybe I don’t think about that enough. You can change it and you can change your perspective. There’s something very very impressive to that. If you’re always thinking about something one way, and suddenly someone discovers, well, hang on a minute. There’s beauty to that for sure. I don’t know how much pleasure and beauty [are related]. For me at least, I think that’s not so associated with science. Maybe just looking at the natural world or listening to music or seeing Crystal Palace score a wonderful goal. There is certainly plenty [of pleasure] from that beauty, but I don’t find that so much in science I don’t think. More the awe and perspective. 

Well obviously the last one has got to be there, ’cause beauty is, I don’t know, beauty is tightly related with pleasure – I assume it is, and so the last one certainly. Some of the others, they’re at a level, they’re more intellectual. And I’ve never seen myself particularly as intellectual, but I suppose relating beauty with amazement – if something changes the way you look at life and you said, “Oh my God, that’s–” yeah, that’s certainly, using a broad definition of beauty, can be beauty. That would be in anything  -it’s if you go to the theatre and suddenly something is said, yeah, and it suddenly opens up a new way of seeing it. That’s amazing. And so it’s not just in science – that is in anything.

We don’t have lots of moments [like that]. Probably the theater has more of them because the theater is a condensed moment, isn’t it. Often to bring that into science, you might have to work for months and months, to get that. But if it happens, I suppose it’s the same response. You suddenly, “ahh!” you’re suddenly seeing the world in a different way, and it does give you pleasure and it’s that, yeah OK, I’m understanding a little bit better now and all those misunderstandings in the past can now be explained away.

Truth is a difficult concept, because the sort of science a lot of us are doing – the way people look at the genome has changed often and so what you might have thought was true at one time [has changed] and … Well, yes, but suppose but it’s still beauty. You see it, but it might be wrong. So what is truth? So perhaps in science you never really get the feeling that this is the truth. It’s a temporary truth.

It might be that you get taken in, “OK, that is that is now the truth”. I mean the classic one is, “what is the genome?” You’re taught that such a small percentage is actually coding and then all the rest was just discarded 30 years ago. “It’s just junk DNA”. And then you suddenly find that no, it’s a hell of a lot more complex than that. And I suppose it was fascinating when somebody said well it’s only 3% of the genome that does anything and people thought “Well, that’s amazing isn’t it. Why is that there?” And that’s in itself quite fascinating. And now you say, well, no it’s all doing something -it’s not junk DNA anymore! It’s really quite a dynamic thing. So your truth then was fascinating – your truth now is also. So truth is an important thing, but I don’t know having it labeled as ‘truth’ is that important. It’s just a new perspective on life. And you know, it’s apparently giving an understanding and you can interpret what’s going on around you on the basis of that I suppose.

Awe and wonder? I don’t know if I get a lot of awe and wonder.

I agree with most of them. I think they’re just different colours on the same spectrum, but the second one you said, truth, it’s a condition that can be there, but it’s not necessary at all. Because you can see one thing or understand a process or see a plant doing something, and think “ok, the truth about that process is this one”. But 20 years later, it’s going to be a different thing. And you realise “oh, I was wrong”, but it was beautiful anyway. So I think that the truth – I understand it, because I want to know the truth behind it, because truth makes you free to deeply understand “this is how it works, there is no other way”. But in the world we are living in, the real truth, it’s hard to find even in science in my opinion. Because everything’s changing so fast and how we look at things changes from one year to another one – but that’s the beauty of it, because the truth is like a seeking of the truth.

But all of the other ones I completely agree with all of them, it’s just part of the same thing.

I personally consider important sources of beauty to be included in points A & C 

I can engage with each of those, I think I can agree with each of those being a source of beauty –<I can remember times in which all of those will have applied, not all simultaneously, but each one will have applied in an experience of beauty related to science. Yeah, actually I definitely think those are nice – They feel like good ways of articulating and expressing emotional responses to beauty that are inherently quite difficult to articulate, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience in trying to articulate the details of that. So actually I think that each of those categories, as long as I can kind of freely use them how I want and when, I think yeah, I definitely would agree that they all apply. [I would add] I think maybe it wouldn’t need to be its own category, maybe it’s kind of enmeshed in each of those, but the creation of beauty [is also] in the connection that you might form, with others in that shared experience, if that makes sense. 
A and C definitely relate to my story the most. As an early stage researcher, the idea of beauty in experimental design and the process of research I think is beginning to resonate. It’s satisfying and beautiful going through the expansion stage of a project to experimental set up and dwindle this back down after data analysis into succinct jigsaw puzzle pieces of new knowledge. But this is still perhaps too fresh for me to comment!

Probably it’s for everyone different? I think [for me]. Like with (number 4), I immediately had this like, oh yes ants are so [that]! What they can achieve and like, so a bit is awe and being like impressed and it’s just there, like it has evolved over millions of years and like it’s so great the way it is is. uh, which can be cool. 

The beauty of experiencing truth, I think it’s less important to me, but I think, it’s still like, oh, I have this question, and we found, the answer, and it’s here, black and white. Right. We mentioned it, yeah, it’s satisfying. To me, not the most important.

The third one: I think I’ve been in my topic quite a bit so, I haven’t have had a big shift lately like that or my view on the world has changed now because I found that. – so…

[But in science communication] you cause a change in how other people look at ants so yeah. as to me in that topic in my research topic, I don’t have big shift anymore, but, yeah, probably I had the shift when you when Enrico and I listened to your talk, you know, it’s like something like, I’m not looking at blueberries the same anymore. Now if I have a Berry and they make the blue color disappear because I can. You know, it’s like. Now, I just changed the structure, you know?

And yeah, d – that’s just maybe, observing inherently. There we go. Like observing ants – that’s just always causing pleasure.

I feel like A&C are important sources of beauty – awe and wonder at scientific concepts (A) is probably the most accessible means of seeing beauty in science, as this can literally happen every day with the world around us. I find beauty in experimentation a lot, however this aligns with the fact I carry out experimental research and think it’s beautiful when all the elements of this come together. 

I don’t feel like ‘truth’ or ‘pleasure’ are as important to me. Truth is a very subjective concept and if I’m researching and discovering new and exciting things, I find more beauty in the work itself as opposed to how it relates to the truth.

A resonates with me, B not so much ’cause I don’t buy into the whole truth thing too much. Definitely, absolutely “seeing the world anew”. The example that I gave about looking at organisms and now instead of just a plant or a fly or bee or a human, you think, “Oh no, it’s actually a really long time dimension that is stretched way, way back”. For me it was really amazing beauty. The last one depends on the definition of pleasure.