by Bill Morris
I’ve only started working at the Centre for Science Communication in the last year, and I’m constantly amazed at the talent of the people who come to the Centre to learn and advance their science communication methods. Our weekly Thursday seminars are an opportunity for students to see what their classmates are up to and for the public to get a taste of what goes on here.
In the past few weeks we’ve seen some amazing seminars. Highlights have been Steve Ting drinking his own urine before necking an entire bottle of sleeping pills (homeopathic ones – ironically Steve reported having problems getting to sleep that night); Tom MacFadden, aka “the Rhymbosome” demonstrating his rapping technique and Adam May giving a humourous and illuminating insight into the future of in vitro meat – the future of food?
What all these three seminars have had in common is the engagement of interesting and eye-catching methods to communicate science. Tom has just returned from a nationwide tour of schools, rapping science to (and with) students. Steve has been working with NHNZ to create ultra-slow motion footage of explosions as a means of communicating chemistry. Adam is working with Rodney August to produce a film about in vitro meat, which will premiere on November 16th as part of the annual Regent film screening.
There’s a lot more to science communication than making films and writing – each of these people are in their own way pushing the boundaries of how science is communicated.
To me science is all about pushing out against the darkness – when we look out into the immensity of the universe, we see an immensity that we cannot begin to grasp. When we observe nature at it’s smallest scale we encounter equally mind-bending mystery. Science is the eyes and ears that peer into this darkness. Science communication is the torch beam that illuminates human understanding with the information those eyes and ears gather.
This week it was announced that New Zealand will share a part of the planned SKA telescope. This array of radio antennae spread across three countries; South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will allow scientists to peer back in time to the early stages of the Universe and may give us our best chance yet of detecting extra-terrestial life. It is a shining example of how we as a species continue to strive towards understanding. Science communication has an incredibly important role in ensuring as many people on this planet as possible share in this understanding.
This of course presents huge challenges. How do you disseminate highly complicated science to a diverse global audience in a way that ensures the key concepts are understood, while avoiding “dumbing it down” so that the essential quality (and beauty) of the information is not lost?
I believe the work of many of the students here at the Centre is world-leading in tackling this challenge. I encourage anyone around Dunedin on a Thursday lunchtime to come and check out what’s happing in our seminar room, it’s amazing what you can learn!