“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!”
This 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 →
I am the Events Officer for the British Science Festival, and my role is to develop an exciting programme of public events across the six days of the Festival. The Festival moves to a different location each year, so my role also involves finding the right venues, working out the logistics of running a large number of events but also liaising with a range of stakeholders within the city. Sadly, I don’t get to do any of the face to face public engagement anymore, however my job is to make sure that those who are engaging the public are provided with the right environment, venue and audience to do their job well… which I think is almost just as fun…. *Almost*
Who is your main audience?
Everyone! The Festival features events which are tailored for families, schools, but also adults. Some of our adult events are really general, so anyone can come along, you don’t need to have a background in science, just need to be curious. Other events are tailored to those with some background knowledge of the scientific topic, whilst others are specifically for professionals in the field.
How did you get into it?
After finishing my Masters in Evolutionary Anthropology, I worked as a Science Explainer at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle. Here I received first hand training and experience from top science communicators in the field. I developed skills in presenting science shows to a variety of audiences, teaching workshops to school groups, but also gained experience in developing my own workshops and activities – an opportunity which is not always provided at other science centres or museums. Whilst working at the Centre for Life, I knew that science communication was the field for me, but it was only whilst working on Newcastle Science Festival when I realised it was Science Festivals that excited me most.
Why do you do it?
Because I LOVE IT and I honestly couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Actually that’s a lie – I would love to organise a music Festival but only if I can throw a large quantity of science in there. I love the build up to the Festival, I love the nitty gritty and detailing of specific requirements for events, and I absolutely LOVE seeing it all come together for that one special week in September. I also get to meet lots of great sci-commers, many of which have become great friends.
Why do you think science communication is important?
There are a whole load of reasons why I think science communication is important, but I guess the main reason for me is that at some point or another, and in some shape or form, the work done by scientists will effect peoples lives. Whether that’s something as important as deciding whether or not to give your child a vaccine, or as simple as finding out there’s a new light bulb out in the shops that will reduce your electricity bill. The problem is, for a lot of people, learning science finishes at school, so it’s the job of the science communicators to continue that learning and understanding throughout life. Science communicators are the ultimate advisors.
What do you love about science communication?
I love its ability to engage people in science…. without them even knowing it. I’ve attended some fun adult-only evening events and seen people leave with excitement, feeling like they’ve just had a fun, quirky night out, but actually they have left learning something new about the world. I like to think of it as undercover teaching. Sneaky, I know.
What has been your favourite project?
Oh dear this is a tough one. I guess it would have to be one of the Late night events I worked on at Newcastle Science Festival. The theme was ‘Designer bodies’ and it featured live tatooing, a talk by the artist Stelarc and my very own ‘Pain stand’ which included an electric shock reaction test and a bucket of ice cold water. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to work out what I did with that equipment list.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
The Festival this year will feature some interesting new events and formats, so I guess my forthcoming project will be to make sure these go well! I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s received by the public and the science community. Due to the Festival moving city each year, each year we face new challenges…. so I always feel my new exciting project starts straight after one Festival finishes.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
My ultimate tip is to get as much experience as possible in face to face public engagement. It may be hard work, and let’s face it, the pay isn’t great, but I honestly don’t think I could do this job without having spent almost 3 years learning how to interact with the public. I may be controversial in saying this, but I don’t believe anyone can understand ‘Good’ public engagement without having tried doing it themselves. Doing it for a good length of time allows you to recognise when you’ve done a good job but also recognise when you’ve really screwed up. It’s the only way to learn how to do it right, no matter how much it will make you cringe! So get your hands dirty.