Aatish Bhatia is a graduate student studying physics at Rutgers University. At his blog Empirical Zeal ( www.empiricalzeal.com), he writes about a range of new scientific discoveries, from evolution to physics. Follow him on Twitter as @aatishb. Questions and answers have been edited.
Q: You went from studying physics to becoming a student of biology. What prompted the change?
I came in to graduate school wanting to study theoretical physics, but realized that as much as I loved the subject, I wasn’t very happy with my prospects. Around the same time, I’d been getting in to a lot of popular science about evolution, from books by Richard Dawkins to David Attenborough’s documentaries, and began to realize how exciting this subject was. Now my work is on studying evolution from a computational perspective.
Q: On the blog, you’ve applied a scientific method to everyday activities like cooking pancakes. What can we learn from activities like this?
I called my blog Empirical Zeal, and the idea behind that was really to take joy in applying the scientific method to all sorts of places where you might think it doesn’t belong. So in addition to blogging about research, I’ve written posts analyzing the flight trajectory of a leaping lemur, or the science behind baking pancakes. Sometimes this kind of thinking has useful consequences, like working out how to build a more efficient airplane, but other times it’s just fun – like trying to science together a more delicious pancake.
Q: What’s your technique for tackling complex science and finding ways to explain it to the public?
There are many connections between writing and teaching. I try to avoid jargon at all cost, use analogies sparingly – they can be really helpful but risk oversimplifying. I like making connections to real-world experiences. If I’m talking about a certain amount of pressure, I’d compare that to, say, the pressure of someone stepping on your toe. Keeping things human-size helps put it in perspective. And lastly, I try very hard to not be wrong, so fact-checking is really important.