Biomedical Researcher Finds Beauty in Nature on Campus
Jul 10, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
Yumiko Sakurai, a researcher in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering, has spent years walking around Georgia Tech. Like most of us, she had been thinking more about work than about the robin calling down from a dogwood or the squirrel skittering across her path.
But one day last spring, as she passed by the Roger and Helen Krone Engineered Biosystems Building (EBB), Sakurai paused and took a long look around at the wetland pond and the trees, shrubs, and vegetation near the building. For the first time, she really noticed that the campus was alive (and, yes, abuzz) with a dazzling display of nature — flora, fauna, and an array of insects and birds.
Until that point, Sakurai had been an enthusiastic recreational photographer who mostly took pictures of family vacations and travels. But now she was inspired to start bringing her Canon EOS 70D with her to the Marcus Nanotechnology Building every day. After that, her view of the Tech campus changed completely.
“For me, photography is a way to appreciate nature,” she explains. “I like it because I can capture things I can’t see in detail with my eyes. But with a camera, you can see so much — you can capture the detail of a flying bird that you wouldn’t normally see. Or a close-up of a bee. I really enjoy that.”
Before work and during lunchtime, Sakurai says, “I take my camera and explore different parts of the campus, with different varieties of trees and flowers. If there are interesting birds, or butterflies, dragonflies, and other insects, I will take a few pictures. The diverse flowers and plants attract a wide variety of butterflies in particular, from the monarch and the American lady to the eastern tiger swallowtail.” In addition to EBB, her favorite locations to photograph campus wildlife are the rooftop garden at Clough Commons and the area surrounding the Student Center.
It is not surprising that so many spaces offer spectacular nature viewing. The Tech campus boasts more than 12,000 trees and 4 million square feet of canopy cover. For nearly a decade, Georgia Tech has been nationally recognized by the Arbor Day Foundation for its efforts to promote healthy trees and engage the campus community in the spirit of conservation.
Sakurai, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, is a biologist by training. As a researcher in Associate Professor Wilbur Lam’s lab, where she has worked since 2011, she focuses on hematology, blood disease, and the application of engineering and microfabrication in designing devices for medical and clinical use.
Outside of the lab, however, she has discovered a new appreciation for the natural world. And she has learned a lot along the way. “I have always liked animals and nature and so on, but I never really tried to identify them or find out more about them until I started photographing them,” Sakurai says.
She hopes to expand her photographic purview to a new species the next time Capital Planning and Space Management brings kudzu-eating sheep to campus. “I want to take pictures of them! I didn’t have a camera when I saw them.”