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Interview with Anand K Das winner of EURAXESS Science Slam India 2014


Anand Kant Das, PhD student at Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) and winner of 2nd EURAXESS Science Slammer India title with a slam on "A forgotten life..."

What is your research background and interests?

My present research focuses on the key steps which underlie debilitating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A better understanding of the disease mechanism will help us gather leads for designing effective therapeutics. I use a variety of very sensitive biophysical tools and techniques to probe damage of nerve cells in these diseases. In addition to this, I have a passion for science writing and communication and independently maintain a science blog by the name ‘Artha-meaning- of-Life’.

Where did you hear about the 2nd EURAXESS Science Slam India competition? Why did you decide to participate?

Quite a few emails were circulated by my institute’s administration advertising the 2nd EURAXESS Science Slam India competition. In addition to this, there were posters put up on various notice boards about the event. I believe that there exists a wide gap between the research and innovations which take place in laboratories and what reaches out to the interested public. The only way to bridge the gap is science communication. It is an effective way to disseminate scientific knowledge and explain the wider relevance of scientific findings to societies. Science slam is a very powerful and entertaining way to communicate scientific research and this motivated me to participate in the event.

Why “A forgotten life…”? Tell EURAXESS Links India Newsletter readers (in few words) about the live presentation that you made.

I work on proteins which are believed to cause damage to brain circuits in Alzheimer’s disease. This malady of Alzheimer’s is so devastating that the principle memory center of the brain gets damaged and eventually the other key areas of the brain also get paralyzed. The worst symptom of the disease arrives late but comes with a bang. One loses memory of everything including ones own name. It looks as if in the canvas of life, relationships and societies one has lost oneself. To be precise one has forgotten one’s own identity, experiences of life and everything what we call a collective memory of us and hence my talk was titled as ‘A forgotten life…’.

I delivered a 10 min slam (see picture above) in front of a lively and enthused audience at Café Zoe in Mumbai. It was a tough job but a great learning experience for me. The show was extremely well organized and professionally managed. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and learnt a lot of interesting science from fellow slammers.

In my own slam, I tried to explain the complexity of the human brain by giving proper anecdotes and examples. I briefly talked about how nerve cells talk to each other and the importance of such communications for normal brain functions. If the information transfer is disrupted then brain functions get affected. Such is the fatal turn of events in Alzheimer’s disease that one of own proteins, Amyloid-β, turn rogue, form gangs and attack nerve cells disrupting communication between nerve cells thereby leading to damage of memory center of the brain. My own research has lead to identification of two key parts of this protein, the fold region which is important for attaching to nerve cells, and the leg region of the protein which pulls the toxic trigger. Targeting these two regions could in principle lead to advance therapeutics. I made use of the power-point presentation, videos, brain models and other props to bring out the excitement of my research to the non- expert audience.

What are you going to do with the prize? Have you thought of which institute you would like EURAXESS to facilitate arranging a visit from your side?

The EURAXESS community is offering a fabulous prize to the winner and I feel extremely lucky to avail the offer. I think the science communication workshop will serve me many purposes. It will be the first training of its kind for me where I could learn, interact and network with expert communicators. It will also train me and take me one step closer towards my own dream of becoming a science communicator someday. I am extremely excited about it and looking forward to the training.

Europe has some of world’s leading research institutes and choosing one among them for a visit is always a tough job. I am still into the information gathering mode at the moment and hunting for places where my interests suits best. Few institutes in Switzerland are right now at the top of my list but the final decision to be taken.

How was your experience as finalist of the 2nd global EURAXESS Science Slam in India?

The experience can’t be summarized in few words. It was a very enriching, entertaining and a great learning experience for me. I got to interact not only with fellow speakers but also with the audiences and guests during the networking dinner. The ambience of the café, the aroma of the food and of course the slam sessions made my evening. Thank you EURAXESS for organizing such a lovely event. Three Cheers to the team and management. 

Would you recommend the experience to other researchers? Why?

Yes, in brief I recommend the slam in the strongest possible words. I think more and more researchers should come out of their laboratories and share their research with the society (the principle source of research-public money) and make them understand how the public money is being used to do useful and exciting science. Science communication will bridge a lot of gaps and also enthuse people with rational and scientific thought process. Slamming is a fun way to communicate and I wish good luck to all the slammers in near future.

Any tips that you would like to give to prospective EURAXESS Science Slam participants?

Science communication is not that easy, in particular when the complexity and the relevance of one’s own research needs to be explained to a lay person. Nevertheless, it is a fun and necessary exercise because as you prepare to explain your work it gives you a sense of ownership and increases your confidence as you reach out to the public. I feel, it is a great learning experience and more and more scientists should participate in such events. Chalk out the key aims of your project and the main findings, and then spend time thinking of ways to simplify ideas without going wrong on the scientific side or over claiming the findings.

Thank you Anand for this interview!