Tag Archives: CERN

Julie-Bellingham-science-communication

Speaking to… Julie Bellingham

“I’m really honoured to play a small part in some massive global endeavours and it’s fun to be able to share that excitement.”

Julie-Bellingham-science-communicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Julie Bellingham

Name?

Julie Bellingham

Where are you based?

Swindon, UK

Who do you work for?

Science and Technology Facilities Council

What type of science communication do you do?

I communicate the contract opportunities available to industry at a number of large science facilities like CERN. I don’t think it’s what people traditionally think of when they think of science communication, but I have to help industry understand what large science facilities are and get them interested, so there’s a large component of communicating science and hopefully inspiring people to be interested.

Who is your main audience?

Industry and businesses are my main audience, but this covers a huge range of people and knowledge levels. For instance, a company that makes magnets for particle accelerators will already have a good understanding of what particle accelerators do, but providers of language classes or IT manufacturers won’t necessarily have heard of CERN or other facilities.

I have to think about what will interest that individual and then focus on that. With CERN for example, most people are interested to hear that it has an annual procurement budget of around £325M but then I try to tailor my message. When we were trying to find patent lawyers to respond to a market survey, I focussed on the fact that people working at CERN have made a huge number of technology discoveries during their work. The biggest of these is the World Wide Web, but they have also made advances in touch screen technologies and developed particle beams which are used in cancer treatments. When contracts in civil engineering are released, I focus on the fact that CERN has a particle accelerator in a ring which is 27km diameter, straddling the border of France and Switzerland and 100m underground. In addition to its amazing science, CERN is also a major civil engineering accomplishment.

Once I’ve piqued their interest, I end with the ‘wow’ factor that CERN is a worldwide endeavour to understand the origins of the universe. I think that the companies who are working with CERN are genuinely proud and excited to be part of something so special.

How did you get into it?

I did a PhD in physics and joined STFC to work at the ISIS neutron source. I managed a project to coordinate the development of new instrumentation for neutron sources across Europe, so I always had a focus on technology for large facilities. I moved to Swindon to STFC’s head office and when a vacancy for the industry liaison role opened up, I thought it would be really interesting and so I applied.

Why do you do it?

I really enjoy developing new procedures and improving the way things are done. When I started my role, I looked at how to improve the way we communicated with industry and how to engage them and I think that’s shown a real increase in the number of companies who are interested in working with facilities. Over the last three years, the UK has won over £47M worth of contracts. These contracts have benefitted hundreds of companies and it’s great to have played a part in that.

Why do you think science communication is important?

As taxpayers fund science facilities, we have a duty to explain where that money goes and the work that the facilities are doing. Last week I met someone from industry who was quite cynical about why we should fund facilities. I spent a while explaining the benefits both to industry, technology and society as a whole and they left knowing why being involved in these global projects is worthwhile. We need to have that support for science and that only comes through understanding.

What do you love about science communication?

I love the variety of my work and enjoying speaking with a wide range of people. I’m really honoured to play a small part in some massive global endeavours and it’s fun to be able to share that excitement.

What has been your favourite project?

I needed to find companies who would be able to respond to heating and ventilation contracts coming up at CERN. I found a number of suitable companies and spent three days with a team from CERN travelling around the UK to visit industrial sites. One of the companies CERN met has gone on to win £1M worth of work and it’s satisfying to know that I helped to play a part in that.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I don’t have specific projects as such but this is a part of my daily work.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Science communication can be part of many different jobs. It doesn’t have to be public facing or to schools necessarily, which is what I think most people think of when they imagine science communication.

You can follow Julie on Twitter at @julie_bee

welsh-train

Speaking to… Professor Jon Butterworth

Jon-Butterworth-science-communication
Prof Jon Butterworth

“Discussing my work with others who aren’t so expert reminds me how amazing physics really is. Also I love some of the questions I get, which are occasionally very thought-provoking.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Prof Jon Butterworth

Name?

Jon Butterworth

Where are you based?

UCL (London)

Who do you work for?

UCL

What type of science communication do you do?

I am primarily a scientist rather than a professional communicator. But, I write for the Guardian and I also give public talks, school talks, and turn up on radio and TV occasionally.

Who is your main audience?

The interested general public.

How did you get into it?

Mainly driven by the public interest in the start up of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which I work on. One of the main stimuli was the “Colliding Particles” films, a project by Mike Paterson funded by STFC.

Why do you do it?

I enjoy it, and I think that the society that funds our science has a right to share in the joy of it.

Why do you think science communication is important?

It seems to me that intellectual understanding and exploration of the universe we live in is an essential component of a healthy and successful society. Also, see previous answer.

What do you love about science communication?

It’s easy for any job to become routine. Discussing my work with others who aren’t so expert reminds me how amazing physics really is. Also I love some of the questions I get, which are occasionally very thought-provoking.

What has been your favourite project?

Definitely my blog – I’m really grateful to the Guardian for the audience and freedom they provide. Also, Robin Ince’s End of the World Show was a high point.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Yes. I’m supposed to be writing a book, amongst other things.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Be honest with yourself about why you are doing it. Know who you are talking to, and listen as well as talk. Just like any kind of communication really, I suppose.

You can follow Jon on Twitter at @jonmbutterworth

Alexander Brown

Speaking to… Alexander Brown

“What I really love is seeing people’s lightbulbs above their heads go off.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Alexander Brown

Alexander-Brown-science-communication
Alexander Brown

Name? 

Alex Brown

Who do you work for? 

At the moment, I’ve got a student contract in the Knowledge Transfer Group at CERN. That job doesn’t involve much public-facing science communication. I guess you could call me a freelancer for now – it’s all stuff that I do in my spare time, but no-one pays me for it yet.

What type of science communication do you do?

Overall, I’m keen to give pretty much anything a try.

These days, my main output is writing on my blog, although that tends to be a lot of “meta” science communication. I write about topics around science, rather than in it, as it were.

I cover more about science content itself when I do  “in-person” communication, which I really enjoy. I’ve given a few talks at open mic nights like Science Showoff and Skeptics in the Pub. What I really love is seeing people’s lightbulbs above their heads go off. That’s not something you get a lot of from an audience where you can’t make eye contact. So, where I really thrive is getting people to try little hands-on demos at festivals and science centres like @-Bristol. Then there’s volunteer street charity fundraising, which is something I did a lot of at university. Standing on a street in fancy dress asking people for money to fund medical research can lead to some really interesting conversations and it gives an insight into what the general public is really like (clue: it’s like nothing in particular, there really is no such thing as the “general public”). I was also a STEM Ambassador for a while, as well as a teaching assistant – it’s really fascinating to see the difference between formal (school) and informal (everything else) learning environments.

I haven’t done much of that stuff in a while, but I recently signed up to be a tour guide at CERN and I’m really looking forward to getting back into it!

Who is your main audience?

I suppose it’s anyone who will listen! It also depends on they type of science communication I’m doing.

For my blog, I don’t think I have a particularly steady readership. I write about lots of different things, and I don’t think there’s much overlap in people interested in all of them. On the whole, I think it’s mostly other science communicators, my friends, plus a few people who follow me on Twitter. A lot of the latter turned up because of one particular post that went a bit viral.

In At-Bristol, it’s typically families with kids, or school groups. That’s about as predictable as it gets, because you never know who is going to turn up next!

Street collections vary a lot depending on when and where I do them. The people turning up on a Saturday afternoon outside M&S in Bath are very different to those in Bank tube station at rush hour on a weekday morning.

How did you get into it?

Like with lots of things, there were a number of factors.

First at school and then at uni, I have always been a generalist. I don’t see why any one bit of science is more interesting or worthy of my attention than any other.

I grew up and went to school in France, so I did a baccalauréat. Unlike UK A-levels, a Bac includes about 10 different subjects. Although mine had a science weighting, I still had to pass exams like philosophy and literature. Then at uni I did a Natural Sciences degree, which was quite pick’n’mix – halfway through, I switched from studying mostly pharmacology and chemistry, to biology and psychology! I never liked the idea of going into years of research to become the world expert one a very niche subject, and then having no-one to talk to about it. So instead I did an MSc in science communication and I haven’t looked back since. I can be writing or talking about physics one day, and biology the next – it keeps me on my toes. On my blog I even go into linguistics from time to time.

I found out about both the MSc at UWE and volunteering in At-Bristol through word of mouth – my housemate during my final year of uni did both and recommended them to me.

In the case of collecting, someone at the Freshers’ Fair during my first week at uni said “hey you, would you like to do a bungee jump, for free?!”. I went along to the information meeting, then that weekend I was dressed as a pirate, collecting change for meningitis research, and I was hooked!

Why do you do it?

Fundamentally, I believe that being switched on and engaging with knowledge and curiosity about how the world works makes people’s lives more worth living. We only have a short amount of time to glimpse the wonder of existence, so we should make the most of it. If I can help in any way, I will. I should.

What do you love about your job?

Feeding people’s curiosity, and my own, is a great feeling. I also love it when someone asks a question I hadn’t thought of before, especially when I don’t know the answer. It’s also fun to find out something I wrote is being read on the other side of the world.

What has been your favourite project?

There have been so many fun and interesting things around, and they’re all good for different reasons! But if I had to pick just one, it would have to be a competition I ran on my blog. It was loosely based on the “Friday Phenomenon” challenge on BIG-chat (an email list for science centre types). Normally, the challenge is to explain a phenomenon in 50 words, with a particular audience in mind. I gave readers a choice of pictures and the question “What’s this?” The sheer variety of answers really made me smile.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Well, I’m only just starting out in the field of science communication so I’m still getting my bearings. Someone with more experience might tell you something different. But for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve been able to make out so far…

Overall, I think it really depends on what your background is, and what part of science communication you want to get into. Ideally, each case would have its own route neatly mapped out. But of course it doesn’t work like that. There are a huge number of ways into the sector. Some people may already be “science communicators” without realising it (but that also depends on your definition, which is a whole separate debate…)

You could start with an MSc, although that’s a big commitment – both in terms of money and time. UWE also do a 1-week masterclass, which is a condensed version of the MSc and gives a good introduction.

A few things cost practically nothing – read books, blogs and mailing lists, listen to podcasts and radio, attend events, watch TV and films. That should give you a flavour of what’s out there and what you might like to get involved with. Talk to people who are already doing that and ask them for tips. Once you’ve worked out what you want to do, do it! You’ll probably not be brilliant at first, but you will get better. As long as you look after your determination, then practise and feedback will take care of improvement.