“love the intellectual challenge of wrestling with a topic and distilling it down to the key ingredients that will tell the story in an engaging way, whilst being true the facts and spirit of the topic.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Martyn Bull
Where are you based?
Who do you work for?
I am a freelance filmmaker and writer specialising in science and technology, architecture and design. So I work for whoever has projects that they need doing and is willing to hire me. I’m also Chair of the Physics Communicators Group at the Institute of Physics.
What type of science communication do you do?
I help people and companies across the world to turn the complexities of their everyday research or business into easy-to-follow stories through film and text.
I like to reveal the humanity and character of the people involved in the work to balance the depth and detail of the science and technology of the story.
My work involves applying the principles of good communication at all stages of a project: pitching to clients and winning work; getting people to talk freely without reserve about their research; clarifying the logical progression of images, ideas, words to tell the story; writing scripts and texts; directing the production crew on set to get the right picture and environment for the story; coaching the people in front of the camera to give a brilliant performance.
Who is your main audience?
The main audience varies with each project depending on who the client wants to reach. A common thread is ‘the interested non-specialist’, and part of the process at the start of a project is to define more specifically who that person might be and how to connect meaningfully with them.
How did you get into it? Why do you do it?
I trained as an experimental physicist, getting a PhD from Birkbeck College, University of London and then working for many years as a scientist at the ISIS Neutron and Muon Source, a large research centre at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford.
Whilst there, I started making educational resources to showcase the research and running training courses for teachers and school students. I realised I was quite good at presenting research in an understandable way to non-specialists. I got selected for the British Science Association media fellowship scheme to work at Times Higher Education, and I learnt there that many of my scientific skills served me well in the world of journalism, and I continued writing for the newspaper for several years after the fellowship finished.
Later, I was asked to set up a small communications team within ISIS at the start of a huge five year construction project to expand the research centre. I spent days worrying about a move away from active science research, but once I started I realised just how happy I felt doing this type of work – media relations, internal communications, writing, developing events and exhibitions, speaking about science on radio and TV.
My interest in filmmaking began at this time as we documented the project, and now I’ve made another big career leap to pursue filmmaking and writing full time.
Why do you think science communication is important?
Good science communication is vital in the modern world. Clear communication of science and technology is essential for people to be able to appreciate and understand how science affects their lives. People need to feel comfortable discussing science knowledgeably without fear or embarrassment. People need to feel empowered in their decision making.
So much in modern research and technology revolves around highly specialised language and terminology understood only by small minorities. Science communication is the essential activity to build understandable communication bridges between these small, specialised communities and the wider world. That includes bridges between specialised scientific disciplines and bridges to people beyond the immediate world of science.
What do you love about science communication?
I love the intellectual challenge of wrestling with a topic and distilling it down to the key ingredients that will tell the story in an engaging way, whilst being true the facts and spirit of the topic.
I love the discipline of film, composing a story through the images and sound and not just words alone.
I love the discipline of presenting a story to fit into a particular length of time or page space.
I love learning about new research and expanding my knowledge.
I love seeing people smile when they realise that they can talk clearly about their research in front of a camera without needing jargon.
I love knowing that I’ve succeeded in conveying complex ideas and giving people new understanding about science.
What has been your favourite project?
All the projects I work on! Every project has facets that make it my favourite for different reasons.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Learn about the power of people and story to communicate science.
Free yourself from the stifling indoctrination of tradition that pervades formal science training for writing journal papers, making presentations and giving lectures.
Watch and listen to science shows, news, documentary, drama and films on TV, radio, YouTube, Vimeo and study how the stories are put together and draw you in, particularly for topics you don’t normally like. Watch TV drama and films and see how picture and sound help to move the story along.
Join networks of like-minded people such as the IOP Physics Communicators Group, British Interactive Group, PSCI-COM mailing list, STEMPRA, CIPR STEM group to keep up with trends and get fresh new ideas.