The story of a young, talented, and driven girl who is on the journey to become a successful science artist

About the author: Ms. Rutuja Dattatray Chalke is a science illustrator determined to embark on her successful journey in scientific illustration. She has completed her Master’s in Biotechnology from St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai. She did her Master’s dissertation from the Chemistry Department at IIT Bombay under the guidance of Dr. Ruchi Anand. Her dissertation project was based on “Dynamic studies of methyltransferase to understand the molecular basis of recognition and methylation.” She started her professional career as a copy editor at Scholarly Editing and Translation Services Pvt Ltd, Mumbai. She simultaneously did a certificate course in graphic design from Xavier Institute of Communications, St. Xavier’s College (Autonomous), Mumbai. Currently, she is a full-time UI/UX designer at Techstalwarts LLP, Mumbai, and a part-time freelance science illustrator. She creates scientific illustrations, zines, infographics, and 2D animations to communicate science engagingly; her artworks are available on Instagram under ‘Tela di scienza.’

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An artist in the world of science

I was born and raised in a middle-class family in Badlapur, a quaint little city near Mumbai. I discovered my love for drawing and dancing early in my childhood during the time spent in Fatima High School, Badlapur. My dedication towards dancing procured me a Visharad degree in the classical dance form of Bharatanatyam under the guidance of my guru Mr. Swapnil Dhotre. My parents have always been strict advocates of hard work. The decision to choose an uncommon career option like science illustration stems from my passion for both art and science. My father has always had an interest in art and has always encouraged me to participate in interschool drawing competitions.

I refined my sketching skills while preparing for my elementary and intermediate drawing examinations under the guidance of Mr. Vasudeo Kelkar (a retired professor from Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai). Since then, art has become a fond companion in my life. Academically, I found myself to be deeply interested in biological sciences and went on to pursue my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Biotechnology.

For my undergraduate dissertation project, I worked on a group project under the guidance of Dr. Tanuja Samant, professor at KET’S V.G. Vaze College (Autonomous), Mumbai. This project was focused on the “Evaluation of anti-microbial activity and phytochemical screening of methanolic and ethanolic extracts obtained from the skin of Muskmelon (Cucumis melo Linn.).” I also participated in a chemistry project under the guidance of professor Dr. Paresh More. It was based on the synthesis, characterization, and anti-microbial activity studies of Schiff bases and their metal complexes of Cu(II), Co(II), Ni(II), and Pd(II).

 My academic time spent during the Masters’s program in Xavier’s played a massive role in shaping my character. With the constant support and guidance from my professors Dr. Shiney Peter and Ms. Norine Dsouza, I completed two research projects as a part of my Master’s curriculum. One of the projects focused on determining the protective potential of Tamarindus indica seeds and Butea monosperma leaves on HEK and 3T3 cell lines that also helped us improve animal cell culture techniques. In the second project, we studied the effect of nutritional stress on producing a bioplastic, poly-hydroxybutyrate.

During my Master’s itself, I also realised my keen interest in bioinformatics, the subject incorporated as a part of the curriculum, which piqued my interest in visualizing science. I also got the opportunity to work in a group project where, with the aid of bioinformatics software and tools, we studied mutations in the gene sequence of human SOD1 (superoxide dismutase 1), involved in the causation of familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

So far, my academic career had enabled me to participate in activities such as science poster contests and conferences that challenged and carved my creativity. I was also entrusted with the responsibility of a creativity head for the intercollegiate annual fest Palindrome 2018. As one of the important aspects of this fest, which was dedicated to the social cause, I got a fantastic opportunity to take a four-week science teaching session for underprivileged kids. This was in affiliation with a non-profit organization named “Sparsh foundation’. The session ended with an exhibition displaying the science models created by these young minds. Such experiences were extremely enlightening and drew my interest in science communication.

I joined IIT Bombay as an intern for my Master’s dissertation project under the guidance of Dr. Ruchi Anand. The project was based on dynamic studies of methyltransferase to understand the molecular basis of recognition and methylation. This gave me hands-on experience in molecular biology techniques such as protein and ribosome purification. The institute provided a fulfilling experience and allowed me to witness the life of a researcher. However, I also realized that research alone would not be enough for me as a preferred career option. Therefore, after attaining my Master’s degree, I decided to explore the field of scientific editing. I was introduced to this field through a workshop conducted by a renowned editing company in my college; the workshop motivated me to be a part of the editorial team for my department magazine “Palindrome 2018-19.”

I began my first job as a copy editor at Scholarly Editing and Translation Services Pvt Ltd, Mumbai, where I worked for few months. Meanwhile, I continued to explore other opportunities in science communication. I enrolled in a graphic design course to develop my skills. Through the guidance of Professor Dr. Shiney Peter, I began my preparations towards applying for a master’s in scientific illustration abroad. However, I had to put a halt to these preparations for the time being due to economic constraints. This did not deter me, and I proceeded to take up a job as a UI/UX designer to stay updated with digital design trends. Simultaneously, I started creating science illustrations by applying the knowledge and posts on Instagram under the handle- ‘Tela di scienza’.

I realised that online platforms have served as a valuable portal for educating on illustration-related courses. The Drawing Nature, Science, and Culture: Natural History Illustration course by the University of Newcastle, Australia on EdX; Pen & Ink: Scientific Illustration course by Pattie Schleicher on Skillshare; and Biomedical Visualization course by the University of Glasgow on Coursera are the few courses I had recently completed. These courses have helped me discover something new to add to my skillset and yet a lot to explore further. Currently, for illustration work, I use software such as Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop and create 2D scientific animations using Adobe XD. My upcoming goal is to master the 3D illustration and animation software Blender, which I have begun learning recently.

It is rightly said, “Learning is a never-ending process.” I wish to strive towards polishing and refining my work consistently. I ensure to stay connected with science illustrators through online platforms.

My ultimate goal is to create a freelance brand of my own for communicating science in an exciting yet simple way and make my parents proud.

Learning is a never-ending process

See Rutuja’s illustrations here:

Illustrations by: Rutuja Dattatray Chalke

Edited by: Sukanya Madhwal

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