ALD23 Books: The Modern Bestiary: A Curated Collection of Wondrous Creatures, Joanna Bagniewska (author) & Jennifer N.R. Smith (illustrator)

The Modern Bestiary: A Curated Collection of Wondrous Creatures, Joanna Bagniewska & Jennifer N.R. Smith

Written by a zoologist with a flair for storytelling, The Modern Bestiary is a fascinating celebration of the animal kingdom. From the familiar to the improbable, the gross to the endearing, The Modern Bestiary is a compendium of curious creatures. It includes both animals that have made headlines and ones you’ve probably never heard of, such as skin-eating caecilians, harp sponges, or zombie worms (also known as bone-eating snot-flowers). 

Organised by the basic element in which the animal lives (earth, water, air), The Modern Bestiary contains well-known species described using new, unexpected angles (rats that drive cars; fish that communicate by passing wind), as well as stranger and lesser-known creatures such as carnivorous mice that howl at the moon, cross-dressing cuttlefish, and antechinuses – small marsupials that literally mate themselves to death. Finally, there are the ‘aliens on Earth’ – the incredible, the surreal, the magical – such as tardigrades, tongue-eating lice, and immortal jellyfish, creatures so astonishing that they make unicorns seem rather commonplace.

The Modern Bestiary is an illuminating compilation of weird and wonderful creatures that provides engaging, accessible, and humorous insights into the wonders of the natural world. Each animal profile is crafted with affection and is supported by cast-iron scholarship and an unyielding dedication to exposing all the hilarious weirdness that the animal kingdom has to offer. 

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About the Author

Dr Joanna Bagniewska is a zoologist and science communicator. Her interests span behavioural ecology, wildlife conservation, and broader issues such as women in science and the internationalisation of science. She is a teaching fellow in Ecology and Zoology at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading. She also serves as the Communications and Public Engagement Officer at the Department of Paediatrics, University of Oxford, and is a course co-ordinator for the Oxford Teacher Seminar, Oxbridge Academic Programmes. 

As a science communication coach Dr Bagniewska has collaborated with the British Council, Copernicus Science Center, the Society for Conservation Biology, the British Ecological Society, and the London International Youth Science Forum, among others. 

You can follow Joanna Bagniewska’s work here:

Twitter: @JMBagniewska
LinkedIn: joannabagniewska

About the illustrator

Jennifer Smith is an award-winning illustrator, author and the director of WonderTheory Studio, based in Bristol. She studied Drawing at Camberwell, UAL, and is also a qualified medical illustrator, using her creative and technical training in tandem.  

In 2020, she completed her training in Medical Illustration with the Medical Artists Education Trust, receiving a distinction for her work, and became a fully certified member of the Medical Artist’s Association. WonderTheory was launched shortly after, to deliver an approach to informative illustration that resonated with her own experiences of learning and engagement.

 She has since been shortlisted for the World Illustration Awards two years running, the Huion Innovation Award, the 2022 V&A Illustration awards, the 2023 Communication Arts Award, and was a Distinguished Merit winner in the 2023 3×3 illustration awards.

You can follow Jennifer Smith’s work here:

Twitter: @wondertheoryart
Instagram: @wonder.theory 

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Dr Fatemah Alharbi, Computer Scientist

Dr Fatemah Alharbi

Dr Fatemah Alharbi, فاطمة الحربي, is an award-winning cybersecurity consultant, researcher and computer scientist who works to detect and analyse weak spots in security networks. In 2019, she made global headlines for identifying a flaw in the security systems of some of the world’s biggest tech companies.

Born and raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Alharbi’s interest in cybersecurity was first sparked during her bachelor’s degree in computer science at King Abdulaziz University. She went on to gain a master’s degree in the same subject at California State University, completing her PhD at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) in 2020.

A self-described “white hat hacker”, Alharbi hacks to find weaknesses or defects in computer systems as a way of improving network security. In 2019, while still a PhD candidate, she realised there was a problem in the Apple macOS, Linux Ubuntu, and Microsoft Windows security systems.

This flaw allowed any hacker to force the browser to visit a hacker-controlled site – making victims believe they were on a safe site and potentially causing them to hand over personal information to hackers. Alharbi contacted Apple to alert them to the issue, sharing all the relevant technical details and code. The company subsequently released a new update for all Apple devices, credited Alharbi on its website and added her to the system’s list of contributors.

Alharbi is now an assistant professor in the Computer Science Department at Taibah University, Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, as well as a visiting assistant researcher at UCR. Her research has been published in journals including IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing and presented at prestigious conferences including USENIX, CCS and INFOCOM. Her ultimate goal is to build cybersecurity “systems and tools that will result in long-lasting real-world impact”.

In 2023, she was featured as one of “40 under 40” cybersecurity specialists to watch by Cyber News magazine.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @fatemahalharbi

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Professor Abla Mehio Sibai, Epidemiologist

Professor Abla Mehio Sibai

Professor Abla Mehio Sibai, عبلة محيو السباعي, is a world-renowned epidemiologist and self-described “public health activist” who researches healthy ageing and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in older populations. Her work is particularly focused on ageing in low- and middle-income countries and those that have experienced wars and socio-political unrest. A professor and chair of Epidemiology and Population Health at the American University of Beirut (AUB), her mission is “to inspire a paradigm shift in the way we relate and act towards age and ageing”.

Sibai earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1977. The Lebanese civil war and motherhood put her scientific career on hold temporarily, but her later research was inspired in part by witnessing the impact of violence and conflict on vulnerable older people.

After almost a decade of full-time parenting, Sibai returned to AUB to complete a master’s degree in epidemiology in 1986. She received her PhD in epidemiology eleven years later from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Over the course of her long career, Sibai has published more than 200 scientific papers and around 100 book chapters, reports and policy briefs – all aiming to identify and address the health, social, political and economic challenges brought about by population ageing. These include the growing burden of chronic diseases and the financial cost of care for elderly people, particularly in countries like Lebanon that are not wealthy and have been affected by conflict. A central preoccupation of Sibai’s work has been the impact of NCDs such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes among older adults in underprivileged communities, including within refugee settlements.

Sibai has led or co-led many major research projects on the impact of disease, including Lebanon’s first nationwide survey on NCDs for the World Health Organization (WHO). This went on to inform public health policy in her home country and globally. In 2008, she co-founded the Center for Studies on Aging in Lebanon, a “hub for research, education, policy formulation and training on ageing in Lebanon and the Arab region”, where she is now president.

Sibai’s advocates for “a human-centred approach to science”, and this goes hand-in-hand with her belief that all elderly people have the right to enjoy a fulfilling, meaningful life. In 2010, she co-founded the ‘University for Seniors’ (UfS) lifelong learning programme at AUB,  which offers educational “opportunities to remain intellectually energised, physically active and socially connected” for older adults. The internationally acclaimed programme has been recognised as helping to delay cognitive decline.

More recently, Sibai led the development of Lebanon’s National Strategy for Older Persons (2020-2030), the country’s plan for “ensuring the health-related, social and economic rights of older people”. A member of the WHO’s Science Council since 2021, she is currently Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at AUB.

Sibai was awarded the Dr AT Shousha Foundation Prize in 2014 for her contributions to public health, and the State of Kuwait Prize for the Control of Cancer, Cardiovascular Diseases and Diabetes in the Eastern Mediterranean Region in 2019. In 2020, she won the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award “for her pioneering research and advocacy”. She said that the recognition was deserved by anyone who works “to make the world a better place for older people, especially those who are too often marginalised and ‘left behind’”.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23 Books: Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way), Roma Agrawal

Nuts and Bolts: Seven Small Inventions That Changed the World (in a Big Way), Roma Agrawal

Smartphones, skyscrapers, spacecraft. Modern technology seems mind-bogglingly complex. But beneath the surface, it can be beautifully simple.

In Nuts and Bolts, award-winning Shard engineer and broadcaster Roma Agrawal deconstructs our most complex feats of engineering into seven fundamental inventions: the nail, spring, wheel, lens, magnet, string and pump.

Each of these objects is itself a wonder of design, the result of many iterations and refinements. Together, they have enabled humanity to see the invisible, build the spectacular, communicate across vast distances, and even escape our planet.
Tracing the surprising journeys of each invention through the millennia, Roma reveals how handmade Roman nails led to modern skyscrapers, how the potter’s wheel enabled space exploration, and how humble lenses helped her conceive a child against the odds.

She invites us to marvel at these small but perfectly formed inventions, sharing the stories of the remarkable, and often unknown, scientists and engineers who made them possible. The nuts and bolts that make up our world may be tiny, and are often hidden, but they’ve changed our lives in dramatic ways.

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Hear Roma Agrawal talk about her book on BBC Sounds.

Read more about the book in The Guardian.

About the author

Roma Agrawal MBE FICE HonFREng, is an Indian-British-American chartered structural engineer based in London who attributes her enthusiasm for engineering to a love of making (and breaking) things as a child.

She has worked on several major engineering projects, including The Shard, and says her entry into engineering started with a summer placement at Oxford University’s Department of Physics, where she worked alongside engineers designing particle detectors for CERN.

In 2005, Agrawal joined WSP for a graduate programme, eventually becoming a chartered engineer with The Institution of Structural Engineers in 2011. She spent six years working on the tallest building in Western Europe (The Shard), designing the foundations and the iconic spire – something she describes as a career highlight: “I think projects like that only come once or twice in your career, so I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on this.” The 1,016-ft (310 m) tall structure required a top-down construction methodology, which had never been done before on a building of this scale, requiring the spire to be of modular construction – it had to be built and tested off-site, enabling quick and safe assembly at its current height in central London.

Agrawal is also an author and a diversity campaigner who champions women in engineering. Following her years working on The Shard, Agrawal found herself presenting her work to children at schools and students at universities, igniting a personal passion for raising awareness of engineering. She has since presented to over 15,000 people worldwide.

You can follow Roma Agrawal’s work here:

Twitter: @RomaTheEngineer
Instagram: @romatheengineer
YouTube: Roma Agrawal – YouTube

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Professor Rajeshwari Chatterjee, Engineer

Professor Rajeshwari Chatterjee

Professor Rajeshwari Chatterjee was an Indian scientist, educator and the first female engineer from the state of Karnataka. A professor at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, she was among the first Indian scientists to research microwave engineering, focusing mostly on passive microwave devices.

Chatterjee was born on 24 January 1922 in Karnataka, southwest India. Her grandmother was a university graduate and social activist who advocated for women’s education, and encouraged the young Chatterjee to pursue her studies. After a degree in mathematics from Central College of Bangalore, Chatterjee set out to join the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) as a research scholar in 1943.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this was no easy task. Senior figures at the institute were well-known for their aversion to female students and Chatterjee was initially rejected – supposedly due to her lack of a physics degree, possibly because of her gender. Undeterred, she eventually persuaded IISc to accept her as a research student in communication engineering. She spent several years in the lab at the IISc, working on electronics research and specialising in ultra-high frequency measurements.

When World War Two came to an end, with India on the cusp of independence, Chatterjee got the chance to take her career to the next level. The government in Delhi was offering scholarships for bright Indian students to study abroad and she seized the opportunity, moving to the US to study at the University of Michigan in 1947.

After obtaining a master’s degree in electrical engineering in the US, Chatterjee completed her PhD at the University of Michigan in 1953, aged 31. Her supervisor was Professor William Gould Dow, a pioneer in electrical engineering who had helped develop life-saving radar jamming technology during the war.

A return to India, and to the IISc, followed. Chatterjee became a faculty member at the institute’s Department of Electrical Communication Engineering (ECE), making her its first female engineer. In later life, she became the department chairperson.

In the early 1950s, Chatterjee started building India’s first microwave engineering research lab with her husband, her fellow scientist and colleague Sisir Kumar Chatterjee. Microwave research was still in its infancy, and Chatterjee focused mostly on guided and radiated wave devices. Together, the Chatterjees developed courses in microwave technology and satellite communication, and were the first to teach this subject in India in the 1960s. Her research helped shape developments in aircraft and spacecraft antennae and is still considered relevant today, particularly in the fields of defence and radar technology.

Chatterjee retired from the IISc in 1982. Over a career spanning more than 30 years, she wrote over 100 research papers and seven books, including Elements of Microwave Engineering and her autobiography A Thousand Streams. She died on 3 September 2010, aged 88.

Her awards included the J.C. Bose Memorial prize for the best research paper from the Institution of Engineers, India, as well as the Ramlal Wadhwa Award for the best research and teaching work from the Institute of Electronics and Telecommunication Engineers, India.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.