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Albert Devasagayam Francis: We are bringing community gardening and beekeeping together

In the ‘Walk in my shoes’ interview, doctoral researcher of fusion plasma turbulence and Aalto beekeeper Albert Devasagayam Francis says that his main motivations are to realize nuclear fusion as a clean energy source and build communities around gardening and beekeeping. He started beekeeping at Aalto because bees are one of the key elements in maintaining balance in nature.
Albert Devasagayam Francis, photo by Susanna Oksanen
Photos: Susanna Oksanen

You have done your master’s degree at Ghent University in Belgium. How did you end up studying at Aalto?

During my master's in Belgium, I got into plasma turbulence research. In a simple way, turbulence is basically when people are flying, they can feel some kind of abrupt disturbance when they are seated inside an airplane – this is caused due to the chaotic motion of air due to air turbulence. In the context of fusion reactors, plasma turbulence can be so big and chaotic that it could worsen the performance of the whole fusion reactor. 

Plasma turbulence is a very bad thing in nuclear fusion. I wanted to focus my research on theories and simulations of plasma turbulence because I think that nuclear fusion power can help solve the climate crisis with the decarbonization and decentralization of energy production.

I found out that Aalto offers a doctoral research position in my research area. I started to read more about Finland, and especially the work-life balance that Finland offered attracted me to apply.

Here in Finland, the PhD is a 4-year program. Anywhere else, you must usually complete your PhD in 3 years. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to do my PhD at Aalto.

You are a doctoral researcher at the Department of Applied Physics in Aalto. Can you tell us more about your research and the culture in your research group?

The theory of plasma turbulence is one of the three subgroups of Nuclear fusion at the Department of Applied Physics. Our research group is very international, and our culture is very friendly and not that formal.

We have a couple of bigger deadlines during the whole academic year and those deadlines are very important to follow. I think that in Aalto, I can have a balance between my work life and free time.

Every PhD is all about building something new. A PhD requires confidence and motivation with the work, and it’s necessary to explore new ideas with confidence, after all a PhD is exploring an adventurous path where you don’t know the destination. Therefore, it's very essential to do things that give you the energy to push forward.

Albert Devasagayam Francis, photo by Susanna Oksanen

Can you tell us the story of how you started beekeeping in Otaniemi?

Gardening has been my hobby for the past 10 years. When I came to Finland, I wanted to continue with gardening and bring bees into the gardening activity. As pollinators, bees are one of the key elements in maintaining balance in nature. Bees and gardens are tied together.

When I came to Aalto, I met a person at the Test Site who told me about bee hives in Otaniemi. I joined the board meeting at the end of the year and jumped into the activities at the Test Site.

One of the reasons why I started beekeeping in Otaniemi is to build a community around bees and to create something similar to community gardening. Many people aren’t that exposed to bees and know how important a role they play in gardens.

I created a Telegram group where we could organize beekeeping. We started beekeeping activities last year with the help of an experienced, elderly woman who does beekeeping as a hobby. That is how beekeeping started at the Test Site.

What is it like to be a beekeeper at Aalto?

It's all about bringing community gardening and beekeeping together. There are now 66 beekeepers in our Telegram group called ‘The Hive Buddies’. At the beginning of the season, we formed beekeeping buddies, who do the hive inspections together and take care of the bees. Beekeeping is seasonal work and very relaxing to me.  

My main aim is to have clean energy, which can happen far into the future. In beekeeping, I can see the impact at the end of each season.

Albert Devasagayam Francis

What is it like to walk in your shoes?

I want to do something that increases societal resilience. My main motivation is to have clean energy. Nuclear fusion can maybe solve the climate crisis but it’s only technology and the results may be far into the future. Maybe that’s the reason why I got into beekeeping and gardening. It’s not about technology, but about being with people and seeing the impact of my work right at the end of the season.

Sometimes gardening is draining, because it’s physical work, but all in all, being in nature is very relaxing and fulfilling.

What are your plans for the future?

Next year will be my last year at Aalto. I want someone to take care of the beekeeping, to carry it forward in this community. Therefore, I’m preparing a guide for beekeeping. I’ll continue with community gardening and try to build a stronger community. For example, it would be great if students of all ages could join community beekeeping at Aalto University and connect with nature in a very practical way.

And with my research, my goal is to publish my second paper by the end of this year and finish my PhD next year.

Interview: Meeri Saltevo

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Walk in my shoes

If you would like to share your story for the Walk in My Shoes series, please contact Tiina Aulanko-Jokirinne. Walk in my shoes is part of the Aalto Cultural Development project led by Carita Pihlman.

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Walk in my shoes, illustration by Anna Muchenikova.
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