Phred Petersen is a Senior Lecturer in the BA Photography program, with an interest in applications of photography for scientific and industrial research.
Phred teaches technical theory (materials and processes) in the first year of the program.
1. Can you describe your background briefly - how did you begin to combine your passions for science and photography?
I was originally a research chemist, and I dabbled a bit in underwater photography. I was intrigued by the power of photography to let me see things that were outside of my normal perceptual range, and how that could help me understand the world around me. I decided that there had to be some way to bring my interest in photography and my background in science together. So, I left my job as a research chemist in 1982 and enrolled in a degree in scientific photography. I was open to wherever it might take me career-wise. As a result, I have seen many things I never would have, simply because I was the guy with the camera.
2. What motivates you to capture a particular image - are you looking for an artistic shot, or looking to understand a scientific process, or both?
For the most part, I am interested in seeing the way an event unfolds so I/we can more clearly understand what happens, and hopefully gain some insight into why it happens that way. I am fortunate in that many of the events I look at are intrinsically quite beautiful when you are able to see them in such detail. I am always walking the line between accurate scientific information and a visually interesting photograph. In any situation, I strive to create the best image I can, but in some ways the "art" of the images is just icing on the cake. And I must be mindful of the fact that any "artistic creativity" I put into the image must not compromise the veracity of the data that can be extracted from that image. I do not consider my self an artist – that title really belongs to the order that is nature – I am just very picky about how and when I look at things. Often the good moments don't last very long.
3. What do you hope the impact of your work is?
On one level, I hope that it helps scientists have a more complete picture of the process they are studying, and that my work can in some way contribute to us building smarter things. On a simpler level, I hope that it can inspire curiosity in young people and help to remove some of the fear factor often associated with "sciency things" and lead people into engaging with a truly fascinating world. When you know how to look, there are no ordinary moments.
4. What are some of the practical applications for your work?
My work has been applied to understanding insect flight to help us design micro air vehicles that are stable in turbulent airflows, the application of liquid metal components in microfluidics for pumping mechanisms that can have applications in medicine, and the analysis of flapping energy harvesters for sustainable energy designs. One study was to see the airflow above a small quadcopter (drone) used by the CFA, to help optimize the position of air quality sensors so they could fly unmanned vehicles into bushfire areas to help assess the safety of these environments for ground personnel. I am currently involved in a studies to look at environmental airflows in the workplace, convective flows as applied to passive heating and cooling, and the development of some "virtual experiments" for use in the Physics curriculum at RMIT. And on a purely personal level, it feeds my own curiosity, which keeps me inspired to look even more closely at what we sometimes think of as "ordinary”.