“My dream would be for a scientist, at some time in the future, to relate how this person (me) came to their school and ignited their interest and enabled them to start a career in science.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Terry Harvey-Chadwick
Where are you based?
Seascale, in Cumbria. Right in the shadow of Sellafield, in fact.
Who do you work for?
Anyone who’ll book me. I’m a sole trader.
What sort of science communication do you do?
I call it Fun Science. It mainly consists of my two science shows, The Fun Science Show and The Fire Show, and various STEM-based workshops that I offer. The Fire Show which has, incidentally, been booked for the young people’s programme at the British Science Festival this year, is mainly aimed at upper primary and lower secondary school pupils. It’s basically a collection of some of my favourite classroom demonstrations, but all put together into a themed show. It has proved extremely popular in schools, and even in a short run of theatres and community centres to family audiences around Cumbria. The Fun Science Show is all about using common household objects to demonstrate sometimes complex scientific principles. In many ways it’s like a 45 minute science busking session, but the audience love it because it gives them ideas for things they can do at home. My workshops range from making bath bombs to building towers using spaghetti and marshmallows, which are all common STEM activities often used by science clubs. However, there are an awful lot of schools who don’t have science clubs and have never seen things like these shows and workshops, so it’s a good introduction into STEM for many. The main thing is that they have an experienced qualified science teacher (I still work supply) coming to them doing unusual science activities that the children love, and are often talking about for weeks afterwards. A lot of people make the mistake of going into schools and saying they are there to make science fun. I profoundly disagree with that statement, used by teachers and science communicators alike. I believe that science IS fun. I am there to show that to my audience. I don’t shy away from the fact that, for many people, science is also very hard. But what fun is an activity without an element of challenge? When, at the end of a show or workshop, I get people coming up to me and saying they found it difficult, but they were enjoying it so much they could not give up and eventually succeeded, that is what it is all about for me.
Who is your main audience?
Primary school-aged children, although adults and teenagers all like what I do as well.
How did you get into it?
I was a secondary school science teacher and took voluntary redundancy from my last school a couple of years ago. I used the money to start SV Educational Services and started by offering science parties in the local area. I then developed my two science shows and put together some workshops and used my local primary school to test them. With some good feedback in my pocket I offered my services to schools in Cumbria and things are developing from there.
Why do you do it?
I just love science and want to let everyone else know how fantastic and amazing it is. I concentrate on relatively simple science demonstrations and workshops, things that the children can relate to and that most primary schools will have the resources to take further, if they want. Many of my demonstrations from The Fun Science Show are things the children can do at home, and I get a lot of feedback from schools about how their pupils have gone away and tried them for themselves. The fact that I have enthused them to do that gives me a warm glow. I hope that enthusiasm will motivate some children to experiment further. My dream would be for a scientist, at some time in the future, to relate how this person (me) came to their school and ignited their interest and enabled them to start a career in science.
Why do you think science communication is important?
Science is more important now than ever. It has solved many things and brought some even greater challenges for humanity in the future. The fact remains that our future will be technological and science driven and it’s important that our children grow up prepared to live in such a world. All children learn the basics of science in school but it’s important that people are kept up to date with the latest issues that will affect them. Science communication has such a broad remit, from explaining the latest issues, how science and scientists work, to enthusing school children to be interested in science. Almost everything we use today has been created by science and, at the very least, it’s important that people have an appreciation of where all these gadgets have come from and why we are able to enjoy such a good standard of living.
What do you love about science communication?
Watching the excitement of the faces of children and adults alike as I show them how to use common household objects to demonstrate sometimes quite complicated scientific principles. It’s great when they realise that science doesn’t always have to be done by brainy people in white coats. They can do it too.
What has been your favourite project?
I don’t really have a favourite current project. Although the next question will deal with my favourite project that is coming up.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Oh, alright then. I have two new projects in the pipeline. They both combine my two favourite subjects: history and science. In my company name, SV Educational Services, the SV stands for Science Viking. I’m also a professional historical interpreter specialising in Vikings. I’m now broadening my period and developing a monk scribe (who cannot write very well) character to present the history and science of ink. The second new character is a medieval alchemist, a contemporary of Paracelsus, to present a history of chemistry. One of my skills is to seamlessly break in and out of character to highlight differences between the mind-sets of historical and modern people. I do a lot of work in schools and museums as a Viking, and I have found that people like to have the comparison during my “performances”.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
I think you need a passion for your subject, imagination and good people skills. If you’re going freelance, like I did, don’t sell yourself short when deciding on your fees. But, at the same time, make sure you gain plenty of experience by volunteering. I volunteered at The Big Bang Festival and found it invaluable. Talk to as many people as you can. Everyone is really helpful to newcomers. The main thing is, don’t give up. It will take two or three years before you get well known enough to be able to make a decent living out of it.
You can follow Terry on Twitter at @ScienceViking66