“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be Johnny Ball”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Edward Gomez
Edward Leocadio Gomez
Who do you work for?
I work for Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network as the director for education and public outreach but my job involves writing telescope control software, managing telescope schedules, working with schools and students on science projects using our telescopes, writing grants, and occasionally squeezing some research in.
What do you love about your job?
In many ways it’s my dream job because I always wanted to be a professional scientist. Particularly an astronomer. In my job I get the opportunity to regularly do science communication.
What type of science communication do you do?
Some of it is talking at schools or astronomical societies, or at science festivals and exhibitions, but most of it happens online. The thing I really enjoy is making – projects which can be used by anyone, anywhere in the world with a computer. It scales really well to big audiences and maximises your impact, but only if you really think about what your aims are.
Who is your main audience?
Mainly school students but also a general audience and families.
How did you get into it?
My first ‘proper’ experience was when I was a 2nd year undergrad I gave a public talk (about creation myths and their similarities to the Big Bang) in SET week 1997. There were only 7 people in the audience. Fortunately this didn’t stop me from wanting to do it again. I also did a placement with the Researcher in Residence scheme while I was a post-grad where I went into a school every week for a year. It was enormous fun and I learned a lot about how you can convey complex concepts to kids.
Why do you do it?
I’ve always enjoyed explaining how things work, even when I was in school. For me it’s part of the scientific process; I see something I don’t understand, I find out how it works and then I share what I’ve found out. When I was a kid, I always wanted to be Johnny Ball.
What has been your favourite project?
Probably the project I like the most was “Show Me Stars“. I love Twitter. I use it as a way to find out news and gossip about a range of subjects but mostly science news and particularly astronomy. I follow the comedian Dara O’Briain, and one day I asked him if he would like to use our telescope network. Surprisingly he replied and said he would. Immediately I saw this as a science communication opportunity. I set up a small website that people could view his observing session in real time and got Dara to tweet each image as it was taken. He has a million followers, the vast majority of these follow him because he is a comedian not because he is keen on science. We used the hashtag #showmestars in all our tweets and had a fantastic response from his followers. One of the wonderful things about twitter is its serendipidous nature; an ordinary lunchtime was transformed into an exciting science experience for many who wouldn’t normally have engaged with science.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Be bold and innovative. Public talks and demos are a great place to start but often attract a very traditional audience. Try to think of things you like doing and see if you can do science communication as part of it.
If you want to run an online programme, you should think about your aims and outcomes. You might have a really great idea but if it is not something that people can get into easily then you can waste a lot of time creating something that ultimately is unpopular. If you think about what you are doing and why it will really help your science communication experience to be valuable to you and your audience.
You can read Edwards’ blog, Dark Matter Sheep and follow him on Twitter @zemogle