Babak Fard

Sector: Research

Field: Science

Occupation: Student

Meet Babak Fard, AGU Virtual Poster Showcase Winner and doctorate student at Northeastern University.  (listen to full audio interview).

Can you please say your name, where you are attending school or work, and what you are studying or researching?

First, I want to thank you very much for interviewing me and giving me this opportunity. My name is Babak Fard and I am doing my PhD at sustainability and science lab at the department of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. I am doing research about high temperatures and how they are changing in different spatial scales. I started with studying the heatwave in a small town and the potential mitigation and adaptation strategies that the town could take to overcome the health-related risks from heatwave. I am also trying to see if the expansion of metropolitan areas in the US has any relationship with increases in temperatures in those parts. For example, in the Northeast United States we have Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. as megacities that have been expanding continuously. Now the question is that if the collection of them as a big spatial unit has any relation with a potential increase in natural temperature values or not.

Can you tell us your earliest memory of being interested in science like did you always know you wanted to go into science or how did you stumble upon it?

In childhood I remember when I was about 7 or 8 one of my the tv shows I was very interested in were science documentaries. No matter if they were on during the day or late night, I would love to watch them, and sometimes I had to watch them on the side of my parents because I had to wake up early in the morning. At that time, I had no idea no firm decision that I wanted to go into science. I remember I was just attracted to documentaries and all kinds of science. I remember one part of them that I loved was about nature and wildlife. But I remember at that time it was not a firm decision that I loved to go into science. It happened later when I was in university, I did my undergrad and then I was again very interested in these applications of using my knowledge and improving my knowledge into things that I realized were important. specifically, I can talk about the environment and how it is going to change and how this specific program could connect my passion for computer programming and data to the environment, and the nature which I love. The decision was made later, although I loved science, I did not decide to go into it until much later.

Awesome, can you describe the most exciting part of studying or researching science?

For me I can put this in two perspectives. Science in general I can say for probably every field of science this feeling of curiosity which is one of the purest kinds of attitudes that we have that we develop as a child as children we are curious about almost everything, they want to know about everything. Then I see all parts of science fulfill that feeling and then as scientists we have this pure feeling of a child who still wants to learn about new things. I think it is very basic and that it continues from when we were children. For me, I really love nature, and everything related to that. All activities, sports I love those which are in nature or outside, camping almost everything. And to me I see the geosciences as being in the forefront of serving all beings on earth to improving life. It’s very exciting that feeling of helping to improve life on earth for all beings not just humans.

Great, so you were a winner of the Virtual Poster Showcase. Can you maybe talk a little bit about how you heard about the opportunity and why you decided to participate in it? And then also give a brief description of your abstract.

Yeah sure. Mainly I think it is because we already had connections with the American Geophysical Union to our lab where we are doing a lot of work with AGU. Specifically, for that project – Building Community Resilience to Extreme Heat, Brookline, Massachusetts – which was a collaboration with the thriving earth exchange of the American Geophysical Union, and I remember because of that I learned about the Virtual Poster Showcase. I think the first thing was that it seemed very convenient because I am so busy doing my work oh but hey it is good because I don’t need to travel somewhere and pay money. As part of the work I am doing I can just take my poster and then record myself and do all of that. It was good but after that I was thinking a little deeper, I was thinking that this could be a great opportunity and hope that it can grow more and more because it is an opportunity for those who cannot attend the real poster presentation for many different reasons. This way they can present their work and get feedback and they can feel like they are being seen and I think that it’s great that I can be a part of this and if it can grow more and more that would be great. And about the abstract, it was about the work I did about heat waves and considering that heat waves have been responsible for a large number of lives lost and these are expected to grow in their intensity and frequency in the future. Therefore, we need an urgent adaptation and mitigation strategies for sustainable urban planning. So here I would like to thank the thriving earth exchange of AGU who made this happen and helped connect us to that community town of Brookline to do this community science project. It was a great learning opportunity for me. And to give a brief abstract, we first considered the most important social and physical factors to obtain vulnerability and exposure parameters for different parts of the town. Then we utilized remote sensing data and located the hottest places in the town during the recent heat wave event and considered them as hazard parameters. We then superimposed this vulnerability and hazard together to create a priority risk map showing the most vulnerable parts of the town to help policymakers in the town to set their priorities for this problem. Then we looked into different potential mitigation strategies for example improving tree canopy or improving green roof areas in the town and based on that we had some suggestions for the town and to be considered for the next steps to put more focus, and hopefully improve their mitigation and adaptation strategies. Although it was specific work for the town of Brookline in Massachusetts, I think the framework that we used here can be applicable to any other town around the world.

Very interesting. I know you touched on this a little bit, but can you describe your overall experience of participating in the Virtual Poster Showcase? And maybe speak about what it meant to be honored as a winner.

I think this was a great experience. At first, I didn’t realize that it’s different. I’m making a video and a poster, but the great experience came for me when I had to push myself in recording the video of myself while talking about work. A few times when I was trying it – it was strange being there, watching me do that on my phone and trying to capture myself. On top of that was its time limitations. We only had 5 minutes so several times when I tried I had 6,7,8 minutes and I had to come back to it and rephrase my words and put some out and then I ended up something where I could go wow that was a great experience to just tell what I want in a short amount of time, considering I wanted to be informative and have the person who is listening to get the idea and to understand my work and get something from that and realize that it is important. So, it was a great experience for me, and my work and I am really grateful for the people who considered my work and for this award I want to thank them very much. I feel honored and much better specifically about my work and its value and it’s been a great motivation to look into my work and even looking more into expanding this work into other areas and more detailed work. It was a great motivation for me.

Do you have any advice for students who are maybe on the fence about whether they want to participate or not?

Yes, for me I can tell from my own experience specifically the part about the video capturing part it was a great learning experience to be able to just talk in a short time about my work. I think the Virtual Poster Showcase is a great opportunity for video capturing and the practice of talking about what I am doing research on for an audience which I don’t know. I have no idea of who is going to watch that and if they are scientists or what is their level of education. They might be from another field so I need to talk in a language in which everyone can understand and connect. For me it was a great learning opportunity and my advice for students taking part in it is to first practice how to prepare a poster, which there are many good resources out there on how to do that and then other than that this opportunity of presenting and receiving feedback is really good. To have feedback from people of different backgrounds I think this is really good and other than that I hope that I can see that it grows largely because people from almost anywhere can apply there are no barriers to entering because they don’t need to travel.

This is a milestone year for AGU as our centennial year we are celebrating 100 years. How do you feel about being part of such a big moment and being able to share your story today with us?

I am really proud to be a part of this community. As I said before I think that the geosciences are really important in the forefront of improving life for all beings on earth. It’s a great feeling for me and being in this milestone of 100 years of that it is 100 years of people who have devoted their life to improve life on earth. It’s a great feeling of being part of this great effort of people and their resources of knowledge but also there is another feeling of responsibility and a little worry because of something being a part of something there is responsibility. For example, questions like will I be able to make a great impact and really help reach our goals for these very big problems that we are facing for example like climate change, sustainability, food availability for everyone. There are many different problems, and each adds to the responsibility and for me – will I be able to make a good impact in my small community to make people realize about their environment? Because some people may look at me as someone who is aware, or everything related to climate change and hazards, so I feel this responsibility.

So, you kind of touched on this a little bit but what do you hope that the geosciences will help humanity understand and achieve in the future whether this is 10 years from now or 100 years from now?

It’s a very good and a very broad question but what comes to my mind first is that there are problems that need immediate action like food, water, and energy. This is going to be a really big problem: people starving in some parts of the world, and water scarcity which is going to increase in some places in the future, and also the energy resources. I think geosciences are in the forefront of helping out with these problems and to overcome them. Also, natural hazards are a very important problem which are expected to grow in their frequency and intensity in the future. Geosciences can do great work on estimating these hazards and their effects, also in helping with developing adaptation and mitigation strategies. I think educating people is very important and programs such as VPS or the thriving earth exchange can greatly help in spreading the knowledge and awareness about geoscience. Educating people who are not geoscientists is an important matter that is important to their life. For example, climate change. Now the scientists are warning us that we do not have much time to solve that and even if now we start to take action in a big way it takes time. I think the other part is educating to know about and understand the importance and it is also really important to educate policymakers because they are the ones making the policy and who have the power to make this happen. The hope that I have for ten years is to overcome this food, water, energy problem, getting prepared for natural hazards, and also to establish a strong foundation for educating everyone about our problems and how to work to make our environment better. The other thing that I hope will start to happen but that may fall into a longer time frame is to have an earth with almost zero carbon emissions. I hope that this can happen, and I think that geosciences have the ability to help make this happen. And beyond that if I want to go more into the future  into 100 years I think some of the science fictions are not going to be fictions anymore – I hope bad parts of those fictions will not happen but I can see us going over our limits and I see the geosciences having a great impact in making movement into outer spaces far from our earth. The other thing is the ocean, in 100 years many unknown things will be found about the oceans. And the geosciences can be at the forefront of those new problems.

Awesome. That is all of the questions that we have for you. We want to thank you again for taking the time out to share you background and your VPS experience with us. As you mentioned earlier you are hoping that more people will get involved in VPS and that is one of the things, we are working on by speaking to you and getting your thoughts and experience we hope we can use what you say to promote VPS and get more engagement. So, we want to thank you for your responses on that.

I would also like to thank you very much for reaching out to me and for your great effort to make this available to everyone. I think VPS is a really great opportunity to reach everyone and I hope it can reach global attention from everywhere and every part of the world for those who may not have the opportunity and resources to take part in onsite presentations and so I hope in the future thousands of people can share their works virtually.