“We had a full house ranging from neuropsychologists to cattle farmers debating the most appropriate way to ‘kill’ a piece of art, and then seeing it through. It was surreal, and magical, and a bit poignant.”
This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Ian Brunswick
Where are you based?
In Dublin city centre
Who do you work for?
Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin
What type of science communication do you do?
I work on producing events and exhibitions that blend science, art, culture, and design in a non-didactic way. I aim to make people to feel empowered in addition to engaged, and leave our exhibitions with more questions than answers because they’ve found new things to be curious about.
Who is your main audience?
Generalists as well as experts, but primarily people over 15 years old. We don’t shy away from current topics that aren’t suitable for child-oriented science centres and we have no permanent collection, so every 3 months everything in the gallery is entirely new.
How did you get into it?
During my undergraduate degree I tried to study Comparative Literature while also studying Physics. I eventually had to choose, but I always wanted to re-connect science and culture again somehow. Plus, I’m a museum addict, so Science Communication was a pretty natural way to go.
Why do you do it?
While I think science literacy is important, and I believe we need a public that is actively involved in setting research agendas and science policy, first and foremost I love working in Science Communication and find it endlessly entertaining. I get to work with mathematicians, performance artists, biohackers, musicians, gamers, chefs, geneticists, designers and astrophysicists. In what other job would you get that?
Why do you think science communication is important?
I think some people see Science Communication as a solution to a problem, and others see it as an opportunity. While I think the ‘problems’ of low public literacy, “Two Cultures” divides, and public mistrust have perhaps been overblown or at least confronted, I think the opportunities that Science Communication opens up (e.g. interdisciplinary collaboration, true upstream engagement with the public, and evaluating social impact of emerging technologies) are largely under-realised.
What do you love about science communication?
I love that Science Communication is growing up quickly. Deficit-model ideas of public communication are on the way out, while more progressive, experimental approaches are being welcomed. This brings new perspectives to scientific disciplines, and brings scientists into close contact (and preferably collaboration) with more and more diverse individuals and ways of thinking.
What has been your favourite project?
During one exhibition that involved a lot of bio-art and living tissues in the gallery, we had a ‘funeral’ on the last day of the exhibition, where we asked our audience to come in and discuss the most appropriate way to dispose of the exhibiiton. We had a full house ranging from neuropsychologists to cattle farmers debating the most appropriate way to ‘kill’ a piece of art, and then seeing it through. It was surreal, and magical, and a bit poignant. We interviewed some of the people and posted a video about it on YouTube.
Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?
I’m working on a few exhibitions and event programmes on themes like Illusion, Synthetic Biology, and Failure over the next 12 months, and I’m also working on Dublin Mini Maker Faire this July.
Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?
Science Communication is a relatively new, and a quickly evolving discipline. If you have a goodidea, go ahead and do it and don’t wait around approaching people and institutions in the hope that they immediately understand it or why you want to do it. Try and make it happen, and let the results speak for themselves, and you may quickly find that you’re the one getting approached.