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Interview with Scott Chandler

📷 UCLA Integrative Biology and Physiology

Journalist: Luke Peterson

Luke: Welcome to SciSection! My name is Luke Peterson and I am a journalist for the SciSection Radio Show broadcasted on the CFMU 93.3 FM radio station, and we are here today with Doctor Scott Chandler. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me Dr. Chandler.

Chandler: Great! I can’t wait to have a chat with you guys.

Luke: So I understand that you wanted to talk today about your work with photography. I was thinking that we could start off with talking about your research interests or your professional role at UCLA so we can give people a little bit of context about who you are.

Chandler: Yeah, well I've been at the university for quite a long time. I have lots of hats that I use for different functions, but in terms of research, I started my research interested in neural control of sleep as a graduate student. I did animal research, looking at and asking fundamental questions and looking into REM sleep, as some call it, or active sleep where you’re dreaming and you have eye twitches, or where your limbs twitch. But if you look at the activity in the muscles, your arms are flaccid. It’s almost like you’re paralyzed. When I was a grad student, the PI that I worked for wanted to investigate that. We developed techniques to record cellular activity and characterize the neural membrane properties of sleep that would be responsible for these things. I started to do that and I wrote my thesis studying that. That was hard bc when you’re looking at behavior in animals as the go between sleep stages, I had to be stuck in my lab for all night long practically. We had a couch that went into a bed so I could actually sleep there. It was crazy. So being interested in motor control, I switched when i was a post-doc in the school of medicine in the combined old anatomy and dental school, my PI was in both, I switched to studying, in guinea pigs, the chewing and mastication, bc you could anesthetize the animals so they didn’t feel anything. You could go in and record the cells in the brain controlling jaw function, and you could stimulate the brain and create jaw movements; you could get all of the data almost that you needed, which was better than waiting all night long for the data you needed. I spent a long time looking at the neural control of jaw movements, and I extended that as a professor in ‘79, ‘80, and I’ve been doing that in one form or another, looking at the brain control of rhythmic control of movements- locomotion and other rhythmical phenomenon, mastication, jaw control- we don’t think about these things, we just walk and chew, you just do it. You know, we’d like to understand the neural basis for these things, bc the disorders of these systems, if we understood the basis for these, maybe moving forward we could manipulations that could help people with these disorders. So that’s what i’ve spent a long time doing, but in the last five years or so, my lab has slightly switched gears, instead of just purely science of neural control function, we switched to ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but in any case, we switched to studying ALS and we’ve coupled with a number of people on campus for collaboration, and we are looking at cellular properties of controlling the jaw in transgenic animals that have ALS and within three or four months you can see these animals exhibit all of the phenomena of ALS, so throughout that time course we can look at the progression of the disease and look at brainstem neurons, and so forth and so on.

Luke: “Bigger picture” that sort of reminds me of your interest in photography. Can you describe how - I understand that you take photos for sports events when we had sports events at the campus - can you talk about how active you are with the university in terms of your photography?

Chandler: At the twenty year mark, I was so involved with the university with all sorts of things, with research, and of course I teach heavily, and I enjoy that tremendously, but you know, my kids were really young, maybe eight or nine, and they played soccer, and as every parent, you like to take a quick picture of your kid, so I got a digital camera and I took a quick pic of my kid, and I had a pic but I didn’t have great gear, but I could see the pic and they were so small in the frame. So I said maybe I can get a better camera and lens, and I slowly got better equipment to get better pics, and their friends on the team would want some pics, and I kept doing that. At some point, things moved on and I had decent equipment. I called up the athletic department, and I said ‘hey, is there any chance I can get a photo pass and get on the field and take photos so I can get nice and close like the sports photographers?’ and they said “alright, we’ll make one exception for you one time.” And I went there and took photos of the women’s soccer team and it was fun, I got some good photos and I put some photos on a desk and I put them on a disc and I sent them to one of the sports admin directors responsible for soccer and she said thank you very much and that was it and then a week later I got a call saying “hey would you like to come out again and get some more photos?” so fast forward twenty years later, I’m probably one of three main photographers for the athletic department, and over the years I’ve covered different things, and they’re free with what I want to do. I have free range to cover any sport I want, so I cover women’s soccer, men’s football, basketball, tennis.. You name it, I’ve done almost all of them. They use them on their websites and magazines, and general stuff. Personally, I like to do a lot of landscape photography while I travel. I’m not much of a portrait or street-photo kind of guy. Occasionally I’ll sell a few photos, and I’ve been lucky that the university has purchased a number of my photos. In the study room at Powell library, I have a number of big photos on metal prints, on aluminum, that you can see up there. Those are all my photos. So that’s a lot of fun, and yeah, for 20 years I've been working with the athletic department. They jut did a magazine article- the mag that the math department is called “Bruin Blue” and it gets sent as a physical magazine to all the season ticket holders and anybody who wants to buy them, but all the season ticket holders get them and they just had one that featured the three main photographers, which I was featured in. So I do that; it keeps me sane to do other things and balance my life.

Luke: Do you think that you have tended to spend more time on it in the last couple of years compared to when you started out?

Chandler: Absolutely. In terms of the sports photography, I have nights and weekends available now that my kids are all out of the house; it’s just my wife and I. It’s not that I can go out all day long and disappear, but I cover a lot of sports. I would venture to say that in terms of the main photographers, I probably cover, for action, I cover most of the action. They have another regular photographer that does all of the still-photography for if we need a group shot or a team shot, things like that; I don’t do that at all, maybe occasionally, but that’s not what they have me do. I do a lot of the action photography; I probably do the most action photography.

Luke: Does that mean that you have to be very active during the game, that you have to position yourself in the right places?

Chandler: Great question. That could relate to the question people ask me ‘do u have a favorite sport?’ maybe they’re slightly related. Sports photographers really have to know the sport. You have to anticipate what the players are going to do so you can get there and get the right shot. You can’t haphazardly walk into a sport and hope to get the right shot. Can you anticipate the sport, do you know the sport? I have to know the sport and the players, bc players do certain things. Player X on the basketball court might always tend to dribble to the left and do crosscourt passes, so maybe you want to get that crosscourt pass, so you might anticipate that. A soccer player might dribble down and u know that they always pass to the right at the last second, so you wait for the shot. Yes, I have to wait for the position and know what’s going on. For soccer and basketball, for sure for basketball, it’s quite easy physical: why? Because they give you a spot on the baseline; all of the photographers have a spot on the baseline, and in the first half, you’re sitting the whole time; you can’t move. You sit there and take photos and rotate your body and that’s the end of that. You have to be very active. Half the time I don’t even know what the score is; my face is only in the camera. You don’t realize who’s up or down maybe until halftime. But that’s easy in the sense of positioning. Contrast that with football, that’s the hardest of them all physically. I’m exhausted at the end of the game. Why? I’ve got a big 400 mm lens, which means I've got a lens that weighs 15-16lbs and I’ve got to walk back and forth constantly, and if there’s an interception I’ve gotta run to the other side. You’re not stuck in the same position: you’ve gotta move. That’s physically hard: I’m drained at the end. It all varies: you’ve got to position and know what you’re doing. Sports photography is quite challenging; a lot fun, but challenging.

Luke: Do you have a favorite sport that you like to shoot?

Chandler: Maybe historically, in terms of my history, because I started with women’s soccer, and I think that women’s action is really cool, bc they’re a bit slower in terms of physical speed on the course/field, they hold the ball longer before they pass, whereas the men, every time they get the ball, they’re almost instantly passing, so you’ve really got to be moving your lens around, so that’s harder. I get much better action shots with the women bc they a little slower so that I can get the shot better. That’s a lot of fun; I do like men’s basketball a lot too; you’re always wanting to get the perfect slam dunk shot; you’re always striving for something like that. They’re all fun.

Luke: You said you consider yourself as more of a landscape photographer. Have you been able to maintain that during the pandemic, since you can’t travel as much as before? Or have you been able to shoot different things instead.

Chandler: We’ve got a lot of beautiful landscapes in our backyard. The only landscape I’ve done up until now is this here that I’ll show u on my background. We’ve been to Joshua Tree National Park because we can separate easily and we have a favorite spot we like to go to, and I love to do multiway photography. So we’ve been out to Joshua Tree twice, and what’s on my screen now is two things; one is the Milky Way, which is there as you can see, and that’s what they call the galactic center, the center of the core of the Milky Way, like the heart of the artichoke, and then what you see in the foreground is a lit-up path, bc we combine light painting with moonlight photography to make this kind of shot. That’s about the only thing I’ve done; we were all scheduled to go to Italy in June and hike the dolomites, and obviously that got cancelled. We had it all planned, all of our itinerary, and we were going to do a lot of hiking. Maybe we’ll do it next year, we’ll see what the conditions are. I’m not going anywhere unless it’s safe. I haven’t been doing any landscape stuff, jut playing in my backyard, photographing humming birds, and bees on roses.

Luke: That still sounds relaxing.

Chandler: I have a nice backyard. It has a nice landscape to it. It’s what it is: you make the best out of things. I’m relaxing more. I'm very busy right now teach a summer class and it’sa very challenging class; it’s an upper-division neuro-elective with about 32 students. There’s a lot of office hours , maybe 4 or more every week. I enjoy it a lot; there’s a great bunch of students and I have a great time.

Luke: Do you think that taking the time to just go outside helps you take a break from your work as a scientist and as a professional, and that that is essential for you to continue doing that. Is it nice to have that to fall back on when you want to?

Chandler: Yes. I think that by doing photography and by doing a “hobby” has been a great release for me. It helps me get more balance in my life. It makes me enjoy my science more bc I'm balancing things as opposed to being totally obsessed with getting grants and writing papers and things like that. I just take a break and get obsessed with my photography. I think it’s great and it keeps me more creative. To do landscape photography and I guess you could say sports photography, I think you have to be creative with getting a unique shot instead of doing what’s in every National Geographic magazine. You want to experiment. It keeps my brain for science tuned into that mode. Let’s try other things: if it doesn’t work, then step out of the box and try some other things. I can’t give you a tangible “cause and effect” as it relates to science, but if I feel better in general then I think all aspects of my life are better for it. And I take this also as exercise. I exercise a lot: always. Not just bc of the pandemic. I exercise every day for almost 40 years. On campus, I’m basically in the gym at 7am and for an hour and a half every day. At home I have to be more creative because I can’t be in a gym, and I don’t want to be anyway. So with the help of my wife who’s a physical therapist, she gave me some things to do at home that actually have given me a better physical workout at home with the things that I’m using to simulate equipment in the gym and I do two walks a day, each of them three miles, so there are skills involved, and I do that just to keep the aerobics going. As my doctor says, 80% of the time I eat healthy; 20% of the time, not so. I’ve done this for years and I’m not going to let this pandemic stop me bc as I’m getting older I have to pay attention to my health.

Luke: It seems like you’re interest in photography seems much more than a hobby. You must have travelled around the whole world taking photos. Well not to take photos, but to go on vacation and also take photos.

Chandler: We’ve travelled extensively. I’ve been to the Galapagos, Costa Rica, Japan, Amsterdam, Chech Republic, New Zealand, Australia… I can go on and on and on. It’s a good thing my wife and I are like-minded, when we travel we like to enjoy the sites; we like to see museums and city-stuff, but usually, when we travel, we’re only a few days in cities doing those things. Most of the time, we always look for places where we can rent a car and drive out into the country; we plan it around photography. We know there are certain things in these areas that make for great landscape photography: everything is planned around that. She is like my travel guide bc we just together say “where do u want to go?” so she’s got a bucket list, and so do I, and we do a mild negotiation: she generally wins most of the time, but we go somewhere, and I say in these areas I would like to go to site x, y, and z; and we look for hiking trails and stuff that we can hike and we do that. That’s how we do our planning; it’s kind of around photo.

Luke: Does it ever push you out of your comfort zone? Do you ever have to make a stretch to take a particular photo?

Chandler: Yeah, when we were in Montana, we were in Glacier National Park, where there’s a couple trails that are 4 or 5 miles each way, which isn’t a big deal each way. But if you’re going straight uphill and when it’s hot as can be, and with a 50lbs backpack, it gets a little challenging and a little out of your comfort zone. We’ve done it though. Sometimes these hikes are just long and you’ve got to take your time, like when we were in the Canadian Rockies, there were beautiful trails, but some of them were super long, and we just had to do it. The thing about us and that is that we take our time because for me, every ten minutes is a place where I can stop and take photos. We stop a lot and take a lot of photos, and by doing that we rest, so these long and steep hikes are more palatable. But sometimes I do get out of my comfort zone, and this last one, which we did not do, was definitely going to be out of my comfort zone, bc you had to do some climbing that was on these ladders, which if you slipped from, you would be going down 2000 ft, and when I saw the videos of them, I got a little nervous, and I don’t think it’s something the average person couldn’t do. Heights are something that I’m not too keen on, so yes, you get a little out of your comfort zone.

Luke: You must have a lot of interesting stories about these places, and people that you’ve met. Do you have any stories that pop to mind, or one that you would like to share?

Chandler: There is one interesting story to me at least, where we went to Glacier National Park in Montana, and one of the things that we wanted to see besides landscape was a grizzly bear, bc they’re loaded with grizzly bears at the Park, and in fact there’s so many around that they tell you to put little bells on your backpacks so that you’re constantly making noise so that the bears won’t attack you. If you get close they get a little threatened; if they hear noise they go away. They want you to be not by yourself and to make noise on the trail. They suggest that you carry bear spray with you; my wife and I each had bear spray. We were there for two weeks hiking all over the place, and we were getting all kinds of wildlife and landscape stuff; it was fantastic. Every night we would go to a different restaurant. We met a lot of people and they’d all be looking at their cameras and they said “hey do u see that grizzly bear?” and I said “I haven’t see a grizzly yet,” I had got all this other stuff but not a grizzly yet, and I didn’t want to leave the park without one. So two weeks go by and no grizzly for me, and it was time to go home. We were in the car, driving down the road to leave the park, and we were about 100 feet from the exit to the park, and all of a sudden, there are a few people on the side of the road, and whenever you see a few people on the side of a road, it almost always means grizzly bear. So we pulled over and they said move quietly, they pointed and lo and behold, there was a grizzly bear, maybe 25 yards away, so that’s not to far, in a bush, eating blackberries, I think it was. Maybe blueberries. And so I had my big long lens with me and I do what I probably shouldn’t have done, my wife was making a big stink, I was kind of snaking, not to be close, not like I was going to say hi grizzly, but I was out of the car standing next to these other people, just taking photos, and my wife is yelling stop it, stop it, and I got my shot of the grizzly bear and ten seconds later once we’re back in the car and out of the park, and I finally could say that i got a pic of a grizzly, which was a pretty decent shot. That’s a story that I remember quite well.

Luke: Do you have any photos that come to mind that make you proud like that? Or that give you pride?

Chandler: Every photo I take at the time I take it makes you proud. That’s the one that’s on my head, and then I come home and process them and make prints and make a gallery and then I’m all psyched up. Those are the important photos at that time. And then six months later I’m thinking of my next trip and those photos are just archives, but just now, because i had time, and because of the COVID situation, we have a lot of photos in the house, prints put around the house, we did a complete revamp of all of the photos that have been up for a while, so we put new fresh ones up all over the house. So that’s been fun, but we try to rotate them every few years, which we should be doing.

Luke: So do you think that, would you say that you take photography seriously, or would you describe your interest in it as serious, with a lot of time and effort into it, or do you think of it more as something you do for fun and something that you take lightly? Is it something like a serious artform and is that how you engage with it, or is it more of a mix of both?

Chandler: So I have a friend that works in the athletic department who says that photography for you is not a hobby, but more of an obsession. I do take it seriously, I work for the athletic department; I do my own landscape photography, and I don’t just take quick photos and go off. Every photo takes me about 20 minutes to make; I don’t have the photo to show you here that i used to show in class; the photo was of my two daughters when they were about 15 years old or so, and we were hiking as we typically did when they were with us. We’d go hiking on some trail, and I’d stop and set up my tripod for a photo, and they were so bored and knew it would take so long, that they would usually find a tree and go to sleep underneath it. So I took a photo of them lying on the ground totally laid out sleeping. Now my wife, she doesn’t use a tripod; she has a kind of point and shoot; so she takes a photo and spends about 10 seconds on it, then she takes out an Ipad and reads while I do my thing. So if that answers your question, I’m very serious about what I do and how I do it, and people know that about me who know me. I get obsessed with it; I guess I've had a twenty year obsession with it.

Luke: That seems like a good way of putting it. I think we’ve covered a lot of ground, maybe we can end this with a final few questions. So do you think that; we’ve talked or referred to this a little bit over the course of our conversation, but do you think that, or would you recommend that STEM students take a closer look at the arts or get more involved with them, or do you think that that is absolutely essential? How do you think a STEM student should engage with the arts, or what do you think is healthy about that?

Chandler: Well everyone is different so what’s good for me might not be right for you, but I think everyone should find an outlet. Everyone should find an outlet that they can be passionate about because I think that if they’re passionate about other things then they might find that their primary worth in studying or doing research or things like that might be better balanced and I might commit myself more to doing my science or you doing your studying if you have things to look forward to whether or not it’s the arts, ok, I tend to say yeah I think that’s great bc I think that’s using a different side of your brain so to speak, science is more logical and meticulous about orderly stuff that might promote to some degree left-side brain thinking, whereas the arts are a little bit more right-sided, as people like to think. But I just think that engaging in all aspects of life to make you more whole, for me, is a lot better and I think - I always tell students, especially undergraduates, and you probably heard me say this bc you were in my class, I always ask students, if you recall, beginning on Monday, I say: “so, tell me something good you did over the weekend,” and I’ve always said that, bc I don’t want the students to be studying always 24/7, bc that’s not healthy in my opinion. I think students and people have got to have other things to balance themselves. So if you’re a student I say “did you get out? And what did you do” even if it’s only going out with your friends, or playing intramural sports, or going to a theater and seeing a movie, you have to do other things bc in my opinion i think it just balances more and is a more holistic approach to your mental health and wellbeing. So for STEM students, sure, I think doing other things, if it’s art - I can’t say no to that - bc you’re really using the creative aspects of your brain more so than maybe - maybe - science, to some extent, at least in the short term, bc science is very a+b goes to c, c goes to d. But that’s not to say that science isn’t creative, bc it’s quite creative, especially if you’re going to step outside of the box and work outside of the box. I think that for the arts that’s a great thing to do. It has certainly worked for me; it has certainly helped me. Maybe you can say that at that 20 year mark, i really started getting into it, and it really invigorated me into my science.

Luke: I think that’ll do it. Is there anything else that you would like to add or say?

Chandler: Will you be sending me the $50 check for this interview, or what should I expect? No, I just hope that this was useful for people listening, and that I hope they enjoy themselves and enjoy their lives and have fun.

Luke: Alright, well thank you Dr. Chandler! That’s it for this week of SciSection! Make sure to check out our podcast available on global platforms for our latest interviews, and I’ll talk to you later!


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