Tag Archives: live

Speaking to… Adam Hart

” I love talking about science, I enjoy the theatricality of giving talks and broadcasting work, even at the early stages, has taken me to fascinating people and places around the world.”

Adam Hart Science CommunicationThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Adam Hart

Name?

Professor Adam Hart

Where are you based?

Cheltenham

Who do you work for?

University of Gloucestershire

What type of science communication do you do?

All sorts! The last two weeks have seen me talking to various audiences about the cross-over between biology and engineering and insect pheromones; interviewing a developmental biologist for a Radio 4 documentary; helping to develop and plan an upcoming TV documentary I am doing; chaperoning undergraduate students in the Houses of Parliament learning about how science informs policy; analysing and planning ongoing citizen science projects with the Society of Biology (The Flying Ant Survey and Spider in da House); writing two magazine articles; assessing a CREST science project in a local 6th form; thinking ahead about National Insect Week and doing a local radio interview. Looking back through the diary that’s pretty typical and it can be a struggle fitting it in with university responsibilities, teaching and an active research programme. I’ve learnt to be very time efficient, I work well on trains and I have a very understanding employer! Continue reading

Colin Stuart

Speaking to… Colin Stuart

“network your backside off, particularly if you’re just starting out. The amount of opportunities that have come my way because of a Twitter conversation or a chance meeting in the pub etc is pretty high”

 

Colin-Stuart-science-communication
Colin Stuart

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

Name?

Colin Stuart

Where are you based?

London

Who do you work for?

and myself

What type of science communication do you do?

A mixture really. I am part presenter, part writer. At the Observatory it is face-to-face communication – presenting planetarium shows, showing people the stars and planets through telescopes, running interactive school workshops and teaching adult evening courses about the latest developments in astronomy. On the freelance writing side it ranges from “typical” science journalism, through to writing educational resources for charities and then onto books.

Who is your main audience?

I wouldn’t say I have one. Over the course of a week I could be singing nursery rhymes about the planets to five-year-olds in the planetarium or speaking to the retirees who often come along to the adult evening courses. I could be writing an article for a specialist science website, but equally I could be writing a feature for The Guardian or New Scientist aimed at the general public.

How did you get into it?

I did a degree in astrophysics and I got to that point in my studies that I think a lot of people get to in the middle of their second year: what am I going to do next? I’d always loved astronomy since I was a kid but by that point I’d realised I no longer wanted to be a researcher. I thought about other ways that astronomy could feature in my career without having to be a research scientist and I’d always been quite good at public speaking and writing so I thought maybe I could do that. I honestly had never heard of the term “science communication” before. But when I thought about what that sort of stuff might be called I googled those words and a whole host of information poured out. I found the Science Communication MSc at Imperial very quickly and within a few days set about getting the sort of experience that would make sure my application was successful. Part of that was volunteering at the Observatory and that has led on to a part time job there.

Why do you do it?

For the love of it (most of the time!). Astronomy has always been my passion and passion can be infectious. I wanted to share my love of the universe with others and get across that sense of awe and insignificance that astronomy is so good at delivering. At the same time it keeps me honest. My job forces me to keep up-to-date with the latest research and I get to talk to some of the scientists doing some really cool research. Basically I get to geek-out on a daily basis and get paid for the privilege.

 

Why do you think science communication is important?

Well first there are the clichés. That science is funded by taxpayers and so taxpayers need to be engaged in science. That our world is becoming increasing scientific and so people need to be more engaged with science and perhaps we can inspire the next generation of scientists by grabbing their attention early. Those things are all true in varying degrees. But the more I do science communication the more I think that the answer is because it is real. Particularly for my line of work in astronomy, we’re finding out the ways in which our universe really works and often that is so far removed from our everyday experience of the daily grind. Science communication, done well, can offer the same escapism as novels or movies with the added bonus of being real. If that doesn’t sound too pretentious! That’s certainly what got me hooked as a kid. I could read story books, but I could also read equally exciting books about the planets and their moons but the latter stories weren’t make-believe.

What do you love about science communication?

The fact that I get to immerse myself in science every single day. And the fact that you can often see the effects of a job well done. If a kid gasps during a planetarium show because you’ve shown them something that’s blown their mind or when an adult laughs at one of your jokes – I’ve been doing it five years but that still gives me a buzz. I also love the fact that I am always learning, about astronomy but also about ways to communicate. I am a much better presenter and writer than I was five years ago, but I know I’ll go on improving because there is always something to learn or another way to look at things. I also still love getting my head around a new concept, just as I did at uni.

What has been your favourite project?

That’s a tough one. What I do can be so varied that it is hard to compare projects, but I think it was writing my first book. As as writer I have always dreamed of having a book out there on the shelves and that’s nearly a reality as The Big Questions in Science is published soon. It is co-written with two good friends – Hayley Birch and Mun-Keat Looi – and it tackles twenty of the biggest unanswered questions in science today detailing the efforts of extravagant millionaires, biologists, chemists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, philosophers, explorers and engineers to push the boundaries of our knowledge. My chapters tackle concepts like dark matter, dark energy, exoplanets, antimatter, parallel universes, time travel, alien life, black holes, wormholes and quantum physics and so it was really fun to write.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I am currently trying to get a kids book on astronomy off the ground, so watch this space!

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Work hard, the competition is becoming increasingly fierce. Love what you do, you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing it so you better enjoy it. Practice, a lot. You might think you are good, and you might be, but you can always be better. Lastly, network your backside off, particularly if you’re just starting out. The amount of opportunities that have come my way because of a Twitter conversation or a chance meeting in the pub etc is pretty high. There are plenty of opportunities out there if you do enough digging.

You can follow Colin on Twitter at @skyponderer or find out what he’s up to on his website.

Jon Wood

Speaking to… Jon Wood

Jon-Wood-science-communication
Jon Wood

so put your personality into it and make it your own. Welcome to a bigger world; a grown up world of storytelling”

 

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

Name?

Jon Wood

Where are you based?

I live in the Midlands but I’ve done events nationally. On a micro scale I’m mostly based in my kitchen as most of the equipment I use for preparing science demonstrations is lurking in the cupboards.

Who do you work for?

That currently depends on what day it is. I’m freelance as a science presenter/performer and my clients range from BBC Learning to individuals who want science themed parties for their children. For the other half of my time I’m the Byrne Outreach Officer in the School of Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham. I take the lead in delivering outreach sessions in schools. I also train researchers to translate their projects into something accessible to their various stakeholders and particularly for a younger audience.

What type of science communication do you do?

I’m a kinesthetic and visual learner so love to experience things or see them demonstrated. I subscribe to Michael Faraday’s approach of teaching, where exposition rules all. I provide a platform for others to discover science with their own senses and if that proves beyond their skill set then it has to be via demonstration. You develop a love of storytelling in order to frame the topic, either in relation to its history or future potential. I’m consciously trying to no longer refer to myself solely as a ‘science communicator’ as it has such a wide meaning, especially in the field of journalism. Yet communicate science is what I do, but primarily as performer of it.

Who is your main audience?

My cat has been overly curious of some practice trials to her occasional peril.

Audiences vary widely, depending on the nature of the encounter. For instance, busking events offers a vast array from children to teachers, young families to elderly patrons. The common feature is that they choose to interact because they are interested. I often find that adults feel that their children are being entertained but quickly realize that they themselves have just learned something they hadn’t expected and they get drawn in. It’s fun working with older audiences and there is no shortage of appreciation or interaction. I’ve lectured for U3A and the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies. Sounds an unusual choice, but my style is to blend history and art with science as I tell the stories. I try to make all my treatments available online, often on my YouTube channel so my ‘audience’ is an interesting demographic.

How did you get into it?

Science-busking-science-communication
Science busking

It was probably 2003 when I undertook delivering outreach sessions for a colleague at Aston University. Rather than teaching for purposes of assessment, the experience refocused the balance of my teaching to include elements of teaching for inspiration. I developed a range of themed sessions centering on activities suitable for younger teens, many of which became very popular with schools, and I ended up teaching more outreach than undergraduate sessions. Add to these, the requests from schools for sessions I delivered as a STEMNET ambassador and it soon became apparent that freelancing was beckoning. My portfolio of work appealed to BBC Learning and they were my first big client, giving me the opportunity to join their flagship science show ‘Bang Goes The Theory’ on a live tour of the UK in 2012.  We’ve worked together on a number of similar events and each one is special.

 

Why do you do it?

I think back to my time at school and while I enjoyed it, I lacked the focus or goal to be more than I was. If somebody had turned up and said, “I’ve got something really cool to show you”, then I might have taken a slightly less leisurely route though my science career. I merely try to provide others with the opportunity I never had. One wonderful day, at the end of a session I did with a school group, I left them with the thought that in ten years time they were going to be facing the problems we hadn’t even imagined yet and were the future scientists solving them. The class got up to leave and one boy said, “In ten years time I want to be doing what you’ve just done, and to be teaching you something while you sit there.” I cried with joy after he left. That’s why I do it.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Reflecting on my inspirations for science I remember my father demonstrating the magnet to me while explaining that the iron filings were likely bits of meteorite. It’s a long time ago, when even science programming on television was prominent. To a child, Johnny Ball presenting ‘Think of a Number’ was prime time viewing. I’m not saying it isn’t there today; BBC4 is generally the only channel I watch. The message and the medium have both evolved. The quality science communication is diluted by a flood of celebrity drivel that encourages the ideal of a gifted future, with a three-album deal and a tour, or your own perfume label. Science communicators have to shout their inspirational message above the din of celebrity rhetoric.

It is easy to say that there is new research being done today that impacts on our lives now and how the future may be, but the reality is more complicated. The skills required for researchers and academics to do this do not come naturally in the modern setup of academic career pathways. Even the skill set of a science communication method has to be communicated and that has to be understood by those needing it.

What do you love about science communication?

When I work with researchers I tell them that this is the moment in their scientific research that presents the most opportunity for creativity. The hardest and most time-consuming aspect is done and now it is time to have some fun with it. In a way, them showing people what they have done, celebrates what has been accomplished. For researchers, it may be a new discovery; for journalists, it may be new or it may be the anniversary of something important. For me, I express my creativity in designing new ways of presenting something that an audience may not have realized is science expressed in everyday minutiae. I see the nonchalant become intrigued as they realize their abilities. The moment when they realize they have been tricked into learning something, or finding out they can describe a concept they previously thought complicated, is golden.

What has been your favourite project?

One project I’ve only delivered twice and each time I do it, I say it will be the last. At the British Science Festival in 2010, I delivered an event called ‘The Greatest Smell on Earth’ with Sally Hoban, a historian. We had produced a science and history lecture as a ‘Barnum-esque’ spectacular that focused on an opportunity to smell a rare plant extract. Shunning the academic environments of a University campus and lecture room, we spent our entire event budget by booking The Old Repertory Theatre in Birmingham, hiring a string quartet and buying two beautiful flower arrangements to dress the stage with. The lecture covered the science of smells and smelling, plus how plants, animals and humans communicate via volatile chemicals. Eventually, the ‘rare extract’ was delivered to stage and people reported using voting handsets the intensity with which they could smell it. Maybe it was the presence of the BBC science correspondent interviewing members of the audience and their regional news team recording it, coupled with the perfect environment that made people say they could smell what was actually just water. The reminder of the lecture was a debrief into the science of authority and conformity, followed by a review of the historical record of how the wonder of such spectacular events compared with the size of people’s world view. It was bizarre waking up to being on the broadcast news all day. I recently reprised it in Hereford for the Royal Society of Chemistry, but it isn’t the sort of trick you can do very often without people catching on.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I’m delving further back in history than my research colleagues and examining those beautiful experiments and discoveries that formed the basis of our modern science. Researchers usually try to work backwards through history from the current thought, leading back to the origins of that thought. We think this because so and so proved this and that. My project is taking the first principles and working forward, telling the story in the historical context, to see where it might have gone. For me, teaching is performance, sometimes in costume, so I’ve launched Wood’s World of Wonders’, through which to offer something special as an option for those people who want an element of the spectacular at their event or party, as well as the science.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

It’s a shame that the people most in a prime position to do this are the very people that don’t usually have the skills to do it. Many early-career researchers are too busy with research to gain sufficient confidence and skill in teaching beyond their contractually obliged lessons. Occasionally presenting at a conference is not sufficient practice for translating your research into something that isn’t esoteric, with an everyday or common place application, and that can be understood by any audience. Fortunately, there is no shortage of help and science communicators are eager to provide advice and guidance. Because science communication is such a wide field of approaches then you will need to build a network of people whose approach and delivery is the same as yours, as you see it. Pin down what it is you want to do. If demonstration is your goal, then consider joining the British Interactive Group forum. If you are preparing to work with schools then join STEMNET and get some practice in. If you work in a university then tell your Outreach or Schools Liaison team. They’ll thank you for it.

Still feeling ill-prepared? Try this. Write down in twenty-five words what your research is all about. Then ask your mother to explain what you’ve written. If they can’t, then you haven’t done enough. Break down the jargon and try her again. Repeat until you both agree what it is you do. Now you need to investigate some way of demonstrating it. Start very simply, remembering that most of what you are working on is probably based on scientific principles from a long time ago. You may not have time to demonstrate the whole process so never forget the line, “Here’s one I prepared earlier.” Most important is the application of your research, which is the crucial part of your session. Now check that you have all these elements: the background, the interesting bit in the middle and the ending, all told in the right language. What you have is a story; a true story; a true story about science and that is science communication. How you tell that story is up to you, so put your personality into it and make it your own. Welcome to a bigger world; a grown up world of storytelling!

You can follow Jon’s actions on Twitter at @JonwoodScience

Theresa Liao

Speaking to… Theresa Liao

Theresa-Liao-science-communication
Theresa Liao

“Because I am involved in many different projects, I am constantly in gear-shifting modes, switching from one target audience to another.”

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

Name?

Theresa Liao

Where are you based?

Vancouver, BC, Canada

Who do you work for?

The Department of Physics & Astronomy, the University of British Columbia

What type of science communication do you do?

I work as a Communications Coordinator for the department, responsible for the department’s communication with the general community. This includes running the outreach program (summer camps, school field trips, national science contests, hands-on activities, etc), organizing public events and science conferences, help preparing professors’ research grants, and looking after the department’s website. In my personal time, I write on my blog Science, I Choose You with the focus on science and our society.

Who is your main audience?

Everyone! It really depends on the activity. Because I am involved in many different projects, I am constantly in gear-shifting modes, switching from one target audience to another. Personally, I like to write for a general audience, so you don’t need to have a scientific background to understand what I write 😀

How did you get into it?

I was one of those kids who just could not stop asking questions and taking things apart (I bet my elementary teacher didn’t like me very much :P). I studied biochemistry in undergrad because the thought of us consisting of biomolecules like DNA and proteins really fascinated me. I then went into a PhD program, thinking that I wanted to do research for the rest of my life. It was around the same time that I started volunteering for a Canadian non-profit organization called the Let’s Talk Science Program (LTS) at UBC – I visited schools and talked to kids about science, and that led to organizing bigger science events for the program.

One day, after I finished running a 300-people science challenge for UBC LTS, I realized I was really, really disappointed about the ending of the project. That got me thinking why I wasn’t doing science communication and outreach full. After a few months of very serious thinking, I went to my supervisor and told him that I wanted to wrap up my project as a MSc project (by the way, I already completed my qualifying exam and got my PhD proposal approved at this point…). I think I scared a bunch of people (sorry!!). After writing up my Master’s thesis and furiously looking for a job in “the real world”, I spent a year working as a research grants facilitator, and then got the job that I currently hold. I absolutely love my job! And I never looked back…

Why do you do it?

I really enjoy sharing science with others, much like musicians share their music and artists share their art. Sometimes I get so excited about it that I just can’t stop talking/thinking about it. I also feel like science is a cause that I am passionate about – I believe that everyone should have access to an understanding of science regardless of social status. That is why I work so hard for it.

Why do you think science communication is important?

We are surrounded by science – from medicine, technology, to our environment and the Universe. Yet we often overlook the role science plays in our lives when we make everyday decisions. I feel that science communication is not just about presenting people with scientific facts, but to reinforce the idea that science is about discoveries, about learning, about continuing asking questions without being afraid of doing so. And that is a process very useful for us in making decisions about ourselves and our future – and that’s why I think science communication is important.

What do you love about science communication?

By communicating science to others, I get to rediscover ideas I knew about and see if I really understand them myself. I absolutely love that experience.

What has been your favourite project?

My favourite project has been the Experience Science at UBC Day. On this day, students from inner city come on campus to participate in hands-on activities run by many other departments that we collaborate with. Many of these students don’t know anyone who graduated from a university, let alone a scientist. Through this event, they get to see the campus, chat with university students and professors, and get their hands dirty in science. I usually go over to visit them during lunch time to make sure things are running smoothly. One time a kid came by and said to me very loudly, “this is the best field trip EVER!” That made my day 😀

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I will be running my department’s open house in May (super excited!), and have been working on two other conferences and three other outreach activities, also in May (it is going to be a busy month…). I am also trying to start a Google+ group for Science Communication in Canada for those interested in networking. And then I am planning to take some courses in social media. And then …(hm, I can probably go on and on if I don’t stop now!)

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

There are many ways to share your passion for science. If you are hesitating, start with something small that you love doing (and do it now!) – it could be writing, painting, photography, or just chatting with people about science. You never know where it will lead to!

By the way, if you are in Canada and you love science communication, join the CanComm forum and list your blog on the Canadian Science Blogs list!

You can follow Theresa on Twitter at @TheresaLiao

Speaking to… Peter Wright

Peter-Wright-science-communication
Peter Wright

“I’m a maker at heart. I love tinkering, building things and carrying out my own crazy experiments”

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

Name?

Peter Wright

Where are you based?

Rural Devon – just north of Dartmoor

Who do you work for?

Myself (I own the company – Wonderstruck Ltd)

What type of science communication do you do?

We cover a range of different things. Our main activity involves going into primary and secondary schools around the UK running a range of exciting STEM workshops and shows. All of our workshops are team-based, most are competitive and they all involve building something that does something – cars powered by fans, hovercraft, two-stage water rockets, robots, medieval siege engines etc. Our shows are spectacular; including some of the loudest bangs it’s safe to do indoors, 4 metre fireballs, setting the presenter’s head on fire and plenty more.

We take the science communication part of this seriously though; it’s very easy to overdo the ‘entertainment’ side of things and forget about the science. Everything we do is explained at a level appropriate to the audience. We do sometimes deliver workshops for museums, but generally not shows, as 4 metre fireballs don’t usually mix well with collections of valuable paintings etc.

We also deliver workshops for some university summer schools.

Another part of our business involves developing and building science-based educational resources for museums. We’ve worked with quite a few museums in this capacity – Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, HM Tower of London, Historic Dockyard Chatham, Royal Engineers Museum, The Royal Gunpowder Mills, The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter amongst others. This involves another aspect of science communication as most of this type of work is designed to be delivered by people who aren’t necessarily science specialists so activities have to be simple and the science learning has to be quite intrinsic.

We have in the past done a lot of resource development for the likes of the NHS and The Royal Navy and also worked on projects with the now defunct Creative Partnerships (an organisation which brought together people from different backgrounds to work with schools on a massive range of projects). Unfortunately though, with the downturn in the economy and change of government, most of this work dried up.

Who is your main audience?

Following on from above, most of our work is now directly with primary & secondary students and informal learners in museums.

How did you get into it?

I went into engineering after university which was great because I learned a lot of the practical skills that are now essential to what I do. After that I became a physics teacher but after 3 years, to be honest, got a bit disheartened with the lack of time to be creative with the subject. I moved into the informal sector and developed and ran the education programme at a (then) new visitor attraction called Action Stations, based on the modern Royal Navy in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. After 3 years of that I had the opportunity to work part-time for the University of Portsmouth helping to develop the science strand of their schools outreach programme. During that time I set up Wonderstruck and the rest, as they say, is history.

Why do you do it?

I’ve always been fascinated by science and I’m a maker at heart. I love tinkering, building things and carrying out my own crazy experiments – we’ve had a cheeseburger and fries on a plate in the office for a year and taken a picture of it every day to record its decay (or lack of). I recently stitched all the stills together and put together a short time lapse film which you can find on our channel on YouTube (wonderstruckwow).

What I do now gives me a great sense of freedom. I can come up with ideas and work them up into workshops or resources and I love the opportunity to communicate all this stuff.

Recently, for example, I’ve learned how to crack a bullwhip for a new show demonstration about pressure, shockwaves and the speed of sound. And I’ll be programming microcontrollers as part of a project to develop some educational interactives for a museum. If, however, the sun comes out I might go and mow the grass instead!

Why do you think science communication is important?

STEM is the very core of our modern world. It holds the key to so much that could make our future as a species more amazing than we could imagine – defeating disease and hunger, colonisation of space etc. I think that it is unbelievably important that we inspire future generations to get involved. I also think that having an understanding of the natural world around us is essential to getting people to understand how we should be behaving in an ecological/conservation sense.

On a more mundane level I also think that too many people are simply passive consumers of technology, using it without understanding anything about it, and I constantly feel the urge to encourage inquisitiveness. That’s one of the main reasons I feel that the current popularity of ‘making’ is such a positive trend. It’s turning people into active consumers who understand that with a little knowledge they can modify pre-packaged technology and get it to do something different.

What do you love about science communication?

I love the opportunity to speak to people about science. When I’m running workshops I love to see students engaged in a task and learning without even realising that they are learning. I think that is an incredibly rewarding experience.

What has been your favourite project?

Always the one that’s just coming up!

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

We’re currently working with the University of Portsmouth to develop an outreach project based on robot motion. The idea is to get primary and secondary school children to think creatively about how things move and that motion doesn’t always have to involve wheels. There’s plenty of inspiration available in the natural world – particularly when you start to look at microscopic life forms.

We also have an exciting project on the drawing board which will involve working with schools in India – but that’s still in its early stages so I can’t say too much about that one.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

That’s a difficult one because science communication is such a broad discipline. I can’t really offer much advice regarding the media side of things but as regards doing the kind of stuff we do – a teaching background is very useful. If you’re planning to work with schools, particularly running workshops you do need to understand how to manage a classroom and how to design a task that will keep children engaged and learning. A sense of fun, plenty of energy and creativity are also essential. Getting experience of running activities in museums and at science festivals is also good practice.