Faculty in Focus: Alastair Boyd, High School Science Teacher

The Graded Gazette

1. You have a Bachelor of Science in nanotechnology and a PhD in biophysics and microscopy. Why did you decide to become a teacher? 
After completing my undergraduate degree, I worked as a scientist while temporarily continuing my PhD studies. However, a lot about academia didn’t work well for me; I discovered that I enjoyed talking about science more than actually being a scientist! At the time, I was also teaching first-year university chemistry students how to run laboratory experiments, which I liked far more than my research. So I decided to become a science teacher and haven’t looked back since!

Alastair with his first-year IB Chemistry students conducting experiments


2. You studied homing behavior in honey bees before teaching. What intrigues you about bees? 
I love how bees are biologically very simple yet have such complex behaviors. Every hive has its own personality; some are grumpy, some hate the heat, some produce a lot of honey, and some are lazy. Almost every bee you will ever encounter is a female. Male bees spend all of their time at home thinking about mating (and they die as soon as they achieve this goal). It’s amazing how ‘human’ they can be! 

Alastair Boyd, aka "Bee Guy," drawn by a friend of his


3. Rumor has it that you have hiked up to Everest Base Camp and journeyed on the Trans-Siberian Railway. What's your next big adventure?
I hope to travel throughout South America once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. My first minor goal is to see a toucan. The two trips I'd love to go on while living in Brazil are to Antarctica, from Argentina's southernmost tip, and to the Amazon Rainforest.

Alastair's hike up to Everest Base Camp


4. You spent your whole life in Australia before moving to Brazil. How was the transition to a new country, and what is your favorite thing about Brazil?
Moving is never easy. While I was excited to be going somewhere new and exotic, it was difficult to accept that I wouldn’t see my friends and family so much. I moved to São Paulo four weeks before COVID struck, so I haven’t had the opportunity to experience as much of Brazil as I would have liked. However, I love how friendly and warm everyone is. Despite the language barrier, everyone is very patient and supportive. Also, I am in love with moqueca, which I wanted to eat every day when I visited Bahia.

5. Have you ever encountered a shark or wild animal during your scuba diving and/or hiking adventures?
I have been fortunate to observe several rare and uncommon animals. I have seen octopi in Australia and turtles near Ilhabela, Brazil. My most terrifying experience occurred near my hometown of Perth when a group of seals started swimming with us. At first, I couldn’t see what they were, and I was convinced I was about to be eaten by a shark!

Alastair pictured with a lizard from Alice Springs/Uluru


6. What would you attempt if you knew you couldn’t fail?
I would become an astronaut. I have always loved space and would love to see Earth from above.

7. How long would you survive a zombie apocalypse?
Ever since I played the game Resident Evil as a kid, I have been scared and obsessed with zombies. I used to have a copy of the Zombie Survival Handguide in my car glove box, and I’ve read it several times from cover to cover. So, theoretically, I would survive for a while. In practice, I am clumsy and unfit, so I think I would die quite quickly.

8. How do you help students link classroom scientific learning to real-world experiences?
I usually try to explain where certain discoveries came from, the sociopolitical factors involved, and how they are used today. For example, the battles between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla (a personal hero), in which they each sought to prove that their method of transporting electricity was best, with Tesla eventually attempting to construct a “death ray,” offer a human element to science that can help students connect with it more effectively. I also think it’s important to highlight that many scientific discoveries have resulted from the works of many people and many experiments that “didn’t work.” 

Alastair with his first-year IB Chemistry students conducting experiments


9. What sort of morning routine do you undergo to get jazzed for class?
Honestly, it doesn’t take much to get jazzed for class! As long as I am feeling prepared, all I need is a cup of coffee and a good breakfast. The drive to Graded along the Marginal through Ponte Octavio is also very beautiful and has a calming influence on me.

10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
I love the openness between students, teachers, and administration. I feel like I could be friends with anyone. The atmosphere is very inclusive and welcoming, allowing everyone (including me) to learn to the best of their abilities.