Tag Archives: neuroscience

Speaking to… Lewis Hou

“It culminates in all these children becoming my neurons and controlling me. So when the motor cortex, these kids, vibrate, then I will have to dance!”

Lewis HouThis is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Lewis Hou

Lewis Hou is a neuroscientist from Edinburgh, but when I spoke to him he was in London for a networking event at the Wellcome Trust. I managed to grab a few minutes of his time to explore how neuroscience and music go hand-in-hand.

The future Dr Hou is currently researching the asymmetric brain (not the creational vs rational) but how asymmetry in our brains could be linked to evolutionary traits that we see in animals, including humans. For example chimpanzees have similar asymmetries to humans, so can he explore that to understand how we evolved language? He’s also looking at how some people with psychiatric diseases don’t have these asymmetries, and how this might be a sign of developmental problems. Continue reading

Indre-Viskontas-science-communication

Speaking to… Indre Viskontas

“Passing along the excitement of discovery and our knowledge of the world but also creating a sense of wonderment that is the heart of science: we pursue scientific study to find out what’s unknown, not to explain what’s already obvious.”

Indre-Viskontas-science-communication
Image credit: Kirsten Lara Getchell

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

Name?

Indre Viskontas

Where are you based?

San Francisco

Who do you work for?

I’m a freelancer with different clients, as well as a part-time Professor of Sciences and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

What type of science communication do you do?

I teach aspiring professional musicians how to apply neuroscience to develop effective practice strategies.

I edit the journal Neurocase, and I also co-host a science podcast called Inquiring Minds in collaboration with The Climate Desk, a journalistic partnership between Mother Jones, Wired, Slate, Grist, The Centre for Investigative Reporting, The Atlantic and The Guardian.

I often give talks to the general public about memory, creativity, music, cognition and the brain.

And I’ve just finished shooting a 24-lecture course called 12 Essential Scientific Concepts for The Great Courses. It will be out in March of 2014.

Finally, I have a grant to study the link between empathy and conflict resolution and effective musical performance – the end goal of the study is to create a website for the lay public to explore how music and empathy are connected.

Who is your main audience?

Depends on the forum but largely educated lay people and musicians.

How did you get into it?

It’s a long and winding road. But mainly by following my nose – or, more specifically, my interests. If I had to choose a moment, it would be when I was hired to play the scientific foil to a believer in miracles on a 6-episode docuseries that aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2011 – called Miracle Detectives. That was my first foray into science communication to a large audience (our first episode alone had over a million viewers – far more than will ever read any of my scientific papers), and it was a trial by fire, you might say. I’m much better at it now but it lit a spark in me that has only grown over the past 3 years.

What was it like working with Oprah Winfrey?

It was very exciting. She has a whole powerhouse of smart people that surround her and the energy is incredible. She’s also very sharp. I had many great conversations with her producers and other staff. But she’s also ruthless: there was a high turnaround in terms of the people she works with. I didn’t agree with all of the choices that she made in terms of what to focus on in our interview or how she treated certain topics on her talk show, but I also didn’t make the mistake of underestimating her. She is a force.

Why do you do it?

It was a challenge that I couldn’t resist. The topics of each episode were absolutely fascinating. I had the naiveté to think that my scientific training combined with my performance experience as a singer would qualify me to host the show. I learned a lot about how to communicate complex ideas to a wide audience.

Why do you think science communication is important?

Because science is the only way forward – humanity can’t progress effectively without it and too many people are being left behind because they are not sufficiently literate in science. That’s a shame. We all need to make better decisions in our lives and science can help us do that. It’s the straightest path to saving our world, if you’ll pardon the cliche.

What do you love about science communication?

Passing along the excitement of discovery and our knowledge of the world but also creating a sense of wonderment that is the heart of science: we pursue scientific study to find out what’s unknown, not to explain what’s already obvious. Bringing someone along on that journey is a lot of fun.

What has been your favourite project?

Oh boy. They are all so different. Whatever I’m working on in the moment tends to be my favorite. I love the podcast, I love the music and empathy project, I love teaching musicians about neuroscience. But I have to admit that being on camera is probably the most fun.

What is it about being on camera that you enjoy so much?

TV and other media work is very competitive – and so the people both in front of and behind the camera are highly capable, smart and passionate about what they do.  Everyone works very hard and everyone is highly skilled. I love that atmosphere – that we’re coming together to give everything we have to a project that is limited in time. It’s completely immersive and I find it exhilarating. There’s a pressure to perform when that little red light is winking at you, and I find my brain goes into overdrive.  I suppose you could say that I often find myself in what psychologists call the state of flow, when I’m performing either in front of the camera or as an opera singer. But the pay is much better in TV.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

Yes, there are several in the works but apart from the release of my Great Courses lectures in March, it’s too early to talk about them in public.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Just do it. Find a medium and work hard to perfect your voice and your material. The cream rises to the top and if you put in the effort, it will be well worth your while.

You can follow Indre Viskontas on Twitter at @indrevis or visit her website www.indreviskontas.com

Dr Jamie Lewis

Speaking to… Dr Jamie Lewis

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Dr Jamie Lewis

“Once in it however it does grab you as something exciting and, despite the energy required to do it, a worthy endeavour.”

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Dr Jamie Lewis

Name?

Dr. Jamie Lewis

Where are you based?

I am a sociologist of science based in the School of Medicine at Cardiff University.

Who do you work for?

I am currently closing in on 4 years through a 5-year post as a Research Associate into Public Engagement based at the Medical Research Council funded Centre for Neuropsychiatric Genetics and Genomics. The Centre brings together world-leading researchers from within the School of Medicine and from across the University to undertake discovery and translational research – based on genetics and genomics, but increasingly moving into clinical and basic neurosciences – to understand the major causes of mental illness.

What type of science communication do you do?

I am a sociologist of science who is influenced by the literatures of Science and Technology Studies (STS) and Public Understanding of Science (PUS). I take a dialogical approach to public engagement in the area of psychiatric genetics and genomics.  As a sociologist I am particularly interested in the social and ethical implications of new developments in the area which are invariably captured under the concept of stigma in psychiatric genetics, and in how people experience and define science in their social lives. With a background in STS I am also interested in engaging with science as a place of work: unpacking the concept of laboratory, exploring how ‘facts’ are created and disseminated. Essentially, unpacking what we mean by scientific understanding – does that mean being technically proficient, understanding its principles and methods rather than particular content or its institutional characteristics (see Michael 1992).

Who is your main audience?

Obviously the literature of PUS uses the term publics to show that there are many public groups and the public is not a homogenous mass. However most of my public engagement events have involved a rather general audience rather than specific publics with particular interests. I am however interested in engaging with an older audience. I do find a lot of science communication and public engagement events target young people, students, children etc. which is great and there are obvious benefits in that. In an increasing aging society and in a period where lifelong learning is being pushed, I am keen to engage with an older adult audience. For example I have noted with interest that a number of retired people have attended some of the events I have been involved in.

How did you get into it?

The simple answer is that it is my job. Once in it however it does grab you as something exciting and, despite the energy required to do it, a worthy endeavour.  As someone who is publicly funded, I believe it is our job to engage with and communicate with a ‘public audience’, but I have found also found the experience enlightening – it has improved me as a researcher, a speaker and a thinker. Embracing the dialogue model of engagement, I do try to take back what I learn to the lab (or in my case, my desk).

Why do you do it?

See above

Why do you think science communication is important?

It is important because in a democratic society science should be for the people.

It is important to engage with the social, cultural and ethical issues that might arise from developments in science and technology.

It is important because science is a part of society and not separate to it.

It is important to engage with the issues that effect people at the local level.

It is important because if you embrace it the activity you will improve as a researcher. You are never to old to keep learning and sci-com or PE can influence your work in new ways.

What do you love about science communication?

I believe PE or sci-com can be a source of multi-disciplinary collaboration. Many of the events I have been involved with have brought together academics from different disciplinary backgrounds to talk about issues rather than their individual disciplinary hinterland. I think those who have attended any of these events have found that quite stimulating.

What has been your favourite project?

Can I pick two? Keeping with the theme of a multi-disciplinary approach, two main projects I have been involved with has brought science together with the arts, humanities and social sciences. Back in March 2010, I co-launched Cardiff sciSCREEN (www.cardiffsciscreen.blogspot.com and www.cardiffsciscreen.co.uk).  Cardiff sciSCREEN is a cross-disciplinary programme that promotes the engagement of publics with science and the academy. Using special showings of new release films, sciSCREEN uses local academic expertise to discuss contemporary developments in science in an understandable and entertaining way, facilitating debate on the wider social and cultural implications of these advances. These discussions draw on a range of disciplinary perspectives and the broad repertoire of themes found within contemporary cinema. Since its launch we have run 18 Cardiff sciSCREENs and 5 other sciSCREEN lites (1 speaker introducing a film) with over 1500 people attending the events.

The other project that I have enjoyed has been to work with artists, in particular Julia Thomas and Rhys Bevan Jones. This culminated in an exhibition in October 2011 called Translation: From Bench to Brain.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

2013 is the Medical Research Council’s centenary year. To celebrate this landmark, the centre where I work have been organising centenary events and from July 1st to 6th we will be holding another public engagement arts exhibition called How the Light Gets In at BayArt in Cardiff. This is one event among a number of activities we are organising and you can keep abreast of what is going on via Twitter. As part of the exhibition there is a sister arts project going on right now founded by Julia Thomas and Sara Annwyl called Cardiff ATTIC.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?:

Only a few. They would be to enjoy it, to embrace it, to not expect to know everything, to learn from it, not to talk down to people and to keep doing it. Public Engagement or Science Communication is not an event – it is a process. And also, be comfortable in saying “I don’t know” if you don’t know the answer to a question asked by a member of the public. You are not an expert on everything.

You can follow Jamie on Twitter at @JLew1979.