In today’s episode of At Home With, we take a peek inside Ariane’s big beautiful brain. Before becoming Australia’s coolest physics teacher, Ariane had a long and illustrious career working in music and publishing—as a DJ, a producer and programmer at Rage, the Deputy Editor at Oyster, and a researcher and fact-checker for places like National Geographic and ABC TV’s Catalyst.
If you like fun facts, jazzy tunes and perspective-shifting book recommendations, then you will love the below conversation…
Maddy Woon: When do you feel most alive?
Ariane: Resurfacing after ducking under a wave.
What did you discover about yourself in the absence of (physical) socialisation?
I live alone, so this existence isn't as confronting for me as it is for some people. It has made me realise that I'm way too comfortable in my own company — I need to push myself to get out more once things start opening up again.
Can you tell us your top 3 fun facts?
1. A big storm cloud can have the same mass as 200,000 elephants.
2. The most expensive substance in the world by mass is Botox. It costs around $200 trillion per kg.
3. Kids spend longer doing boring tasks when they're dressed as Batman.
What makes you most proud about the younger generation you teach? What can we learn from them?
They're kind and tolerant, they're incredibly adaptive, they care about the environment, they're open-minded, they're supportive of each other when it matters most. Most of all they're not ashamed to be all of these things, which I am most proud of. I've also noticed they're almost as comfortable talking about mental health as they are physical health, which is a wonderful thing.
What is the coolest thing you’ve learned recently?
Bluebottles (aka Portuguese Man o'War) aren't jellyfish — they're a colony of four separate animals that each have separate jobs and can't survive without each other 🥺.
Can you recall something you’ve read that’s completely changed your perspective on the world, or on a particular subject?
In your experience, why do you think people ignore the science of things, ie climate change denial and COVID-19?
I think that the populist tendency to reject scientific evidence is very scary, and it's one of the reasons I changed careers and became a teacher. There's a great quote from Carl Sagan's book The Demon-Haunted World on this: "We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements — transportation, communication, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting — profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things, so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for awhile, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
As to why it happens, it's incredibly complicated. Part of the problem is that, as Carl Sagan points out, modern science has become increasingly inaccessible to laypeople, and this deepens the divide between experts and non-experts. Then there's the issue of the internet. People can write whatever they want in very fancy-sounding language with lots of seemingly reputable sources, and unless you have a good understanding of how scientific research and publication works it can be difficult to sort pseudoscience from real science. As a science teacher I think my biggest responsibility is to teach critical thinking skills so that they can fight their way through the misinformation and make informed, intelligent decisions — that is, they can still thinklike a scientist, even if they don't necessarily become one.
How did you keep your body and mind active during self-isolation?
My mind is very much overactive because of my work, so I'm mostly trying to make myself switch off from that. 3 days a week I do a Zoom workout with the school's swim team, which is as weird as it sounds. There's lots of push ups and burpees and weird swimming exercises, but it has kept me sane. At the risk of sounding completely insufferable I've also become one of those people who do YouTube yoga. I like Yoga with Adriene because she doesn't bang on about spirituality too much. I'm trying to get better at riding my bike on the road, which is much easier now that there are no cars. And because work has been so intense I've tried to avoid screens when I'm not working, which means I've read lots of books instead of watching Netflix.
How are you consuming news? Do you think this is where we see the best of social/traditional media?
I am an obsessive news reader and have a time limit for the news app on my phone, as well browser plugins to limit the time I spend on various news websites on my laptop. However with the lockdown there's actually been less news (well, less news about everything but COVID), so I'm finding I'm checking it less often. Hopefully this will break my habit! It's been a golden age for memes though, special shout-out to my favourite instagram account @tom_tuna_tartare.
Who are some of your favourite new artists we can pop on our quarantine playlists?
Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Milan Ring, Noname.
Best documentaries/movies/books to read during isolation?
I love big dumb action movies because they help me turn off my brain. I recently re-watched The Long Kiss Goodnight and it was perfect. I'm dying to see that terrible film where The Rock is essentially a security guard in a tall fancy building — Skyscraper.
In terms of books, I've just re-read Earth by David Brin, which was written in 1990 but predicts about a million awful things, like spam emails and lawyer software and Google Glasses and the floods in New Orleans. I read Dave Eggers' The Circle and wish I hadn't. I don't read much non-science fiction but I loved Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, and wanted to like Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt but I couldn't quite attach to it.
In terms of non-fiction I'm teaching a quantum physics topic at the moment so seeing how other famous scientists have gone about explaining it. I'm working my way through Richard P. Feynman's Six Easy Pieces, Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Adam Becker's What Is Real?and John Gribbin's Six Impossible Things. A couple of weeks ago I re-read Janna Levin's Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, which is a beautifully written story about the discovery of gravitational waves.
What are you looking forward to doing most when things go back to ~normal?
Playing pool at the pub and doing laps in the pool.