Humans who search

Humans who search

Reclaiming what it means to be a scientist through photography and storytelling

Woman sitting on chair

Sigourney Bell by Stefanie Reichelt

Sigourney Bell by Stefanie Reichelt

Stefanie Reichelt had long felt there was a disconnect between the public’s perception of scientists and reality. Armed with only a camera and a chair, she set out to find the human side of science.

“In popular culture, scientists are often portrayed as being really geeky and nerdy, perhaps a bit weird, ” explains Dr Reichelt, Head of Light Microscopy at the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Cambridge Institute. “We see photographs of scientists in white lab coats pictured against backdrops of complex or futuristic equipment. Both these representations lead to the sense of a scientist being ‘other’.”

“I felt it was really important to challenge these misconceptions, firstly because we want young people to be able to see a true representation of scientists; we don’t want anyone to be put off from working in science because scientists seem unrelatable. And secondly to address the element of mistrust of scientists that has been growing in the media and public discourse in recent years.”

What followed was a series of portraits, entitled Humans who search, depicting the scientists, researchers, clinicians and students working at the CRUK Cambridge Institute. As Reichelt took photos of her colleagues sitting on a simple wooden chair she asked them to explain how they came to be working at the Institute. 

“I wanted to show my colleagues as human beings and capture their gestures and personalities as they talked,” says Reichelt. “I was very touched by the stories they shared, they were incredibly personal, powerful and precious.” 

The series of portraits and interviews is now available as an online exhibit, alongside a virtual tour of the lab. And, as part of the Cambridge Festival, the public can submit questions to find out more about the people featured in the series.

“Just as our scientists are asking questions about how the human body works, we wanted to give the public an opportunity to ask questions of our scientists,” says Reichelt. “We hope that by opening up this dialogue we’ll be able to break down misconceptions and inspire future generations.”

Select a portrait below to read a snippet of the scientist’s story.

Woman sitting on chair

“I wanted to be like my aunt Elina, she was a micro­biologist working on HIV.” – Tannia Gracia

“I wanted to be like my aunt Elina, she was a micro­biologist working on HIV.” – Tannia Gracia

Man sitting on chair

“My dad was always curious - whenever we would come home from school, he would want to know what we had been doing and why we were doing it.” – Oliver Cast 

“My dad was always curious - whenever we would come home from school, he would want to know what we had been doing and why we were doing it.” – Oliver Cast 

Woman sitting on chair

"I didn't want anyone else to suffer the same way my grandmother did." – Matilde Duarte

"I didn't want anyone else to suffer the same way my grandmother did." – Matilde Duarte

Woman sitting on chair

“l realised that science is about small discoveries, you realise that you don't need to change the world every day.” – Adelyne Chan

“l realised that science is about small discoveries, you realise that you don't need to change the world every day.” – Adelyne Chan

Man sitting on chair

“It's like when you fall in love with something, it's the seeds of curiosity and you just try to follow that curiosity.” – Vincenzo Graziano 

“It's like when you fall in love with something, it's the seeds of curiosity and you just try to follow that curiosity.” – Vincenzo Graziano 

Man sitting on chair

“If there is someone who has inspired me, it's my advanced biology teacher. He didn't necessarily encourage me on a personal level, he was simply a fascinating guy.” – Ruben Drews 

“If there is someone who has inspired me, it's my advanced biology teacher. He didn't necessarily encourage me on a personal level, he was simply a fascinating guy.” – Ruben Drews 

Woman sitting on chair

“Knowing that something you do could help to cure children with brain cancer is actually amazing.” – Sigourney Bell

“Knowing that something you do could help to cure children with brain cancer is actually amazing.” – Sigourney Bell

Woman sitting on chair

“Science is like taking a leap of faith.” – Serena MacMillan

“Science is like taking a leap of faith.” – Serena MacMillan

Woman sitting on chair

“Life starts where your comfort zone ends.” – Angela An

“Life starts where your comfort zone ends.” – Angela An

Man sitting on chair

“It's about getting people to realise that you don't have to be a medic to go into medicine.” – Paul Sweeney

“It's about getting people to realise that you don't have to be a medic to go into medicine.” – Paul Sweeney

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Woman sitting on chair

“I wanted to be like my aunt Elina, she was a micro­biologist working on HIV.” – Tannia Gracia

“I wanted to be like my aunt Elina, she was a micro­biologist working on HIV.” – Tannia Gracia

Man sitting on chair

“My dad was always curious - whenever we would come home from school, he would want to know what we had been doing and why we were doing it.” – Oliver Cast 

“My dad was always curious - whenever we would come home from school, he would want to know what we had been doing and why we were doing it.” – Oliver Cast 

Woman sitting on chair

"I didn't want anyone else to suffer the same way my grandmother did." – Matilde Duarte

"I didn't want anyone else to suffer the same way my grandmother did." – Matilde Duarte

Woman sitting on chair

“l realised that science is about small discoveries, you realise that you don't need to change the world every day.” – Adelyne Chan

“l realised that science is about small discoveries, you realise that you don't need to change the world every day.” – Adelyne Chan

Man sitting on chair

“It's like when you fall in love with something, it's the seeds of curiosity and you just try to follow that curiosity.” – Vincenzo Graziano 

“It's like when you fall in love with something, it's the seeds of curiosity and you just try to follow that curiosity.” – Vincenzo Graziano 

Man sitting on chair

“If there is someone who has inspired me, it's my advanced biology teacher. He didn't necessarily encourage me on a personal level, he was simply a fascinating guy.” – Ruben Drews 

“If there is someone who has inspired me, it's my advanced biology teacher. He didn't necessarily encourage me on a personal level, he was simply a fascinating guy.” – Ruben Drews 

Woman sitting on chair

“Knowing that something you do could help to cure children with brain cancer is actually amazing.” – Sigourney Bell

“Knowing that something you do could help to cure children with brain cancer is actually amazing.” – Sigourney Bell

Woman sitting on chair

“Science is like taking a leap of faith.” – Serena MacMillan

“Science is like taking a leap of faith.” – Serena MacMillan

Woman sitting on chair

“Life starts where your comfort zone ends.” – Angela An

“Life starts where your comfort zone ends.” – Angela An

Man sitting on chair

“It's about getting people to realise that you don't have to be a medic to go into medicine.” – Paul Sweeney

“It's about getting people to realise that you don't have to be a medic to go into medicine.” – Paul Sweeney

The new Cambridge Festival will take place from 26 March to 4 April 2021, with more than 350 free online events and activities for everyone. Browse the programme and book events