I was reading Librarian Sally Gore’s recent blog post, and she mentioned attending a Science Café in Worcester, Mass. I was intrigued by this idea, so I looked around for more information. Have you ever heard of Science Cafés? If you like the idea of learning about science in a relaxed, fun atmosphere then Science Cafés may be for you.
The idea grew out of the need for scientists to communicate their research to the public. It is important for scientists to let the public know what they are working on; an informed public can make better decisions about their lives and drive funding in certain directions. But scientists are not always skilled or comfortable talking about their work with a lay audience. And non-scientists may be intimidated by formal scientific lectures. The idea of the Science Café was born to bridge this gap: A scientist is invited to speak at a local café or bar, which gives him/her practice talking about research with regular folks in an informal enviroment. The events are free and open to the public, and everyone is encouraged to have fun and ask questions. Some groups have a monthly event and some meet less regularly.
In 2006, the website www.sciencecafes.org was established by NOVA to help this handful of grassroots groups let people know where these gatherings are happening. There are now Science Cafés all over the country and all over the world (see map). Here are a few local groups to check out: Astronomy On Tap was created in NYC and each event features presenters from local institutions including Columbia, CUNY and NYU; The Secret Science Club meets every month at the Bell House in Brooklyn, NY; and PubSci hops around Long Island covering research topics from the Brookhaven National Laboratory. These gatherings could be a great opportunity for Touro students and faculty who are involved in research to learn more about communicating complex information to the lay public. For scholars and researchers or others, these skills may be needed in your career if you will be talking with patients, the media or potential donors about your work.
Another opportunity to learn how to explain complicated science principles in simple terms is to participate in the Flame Challenge. The Flame Challenge is an annual contest in which scientists come up with their best idea for explaining a particular scientific concept to an 11-year-old child. The Challenge is sponsored by the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. This years’ challenge was to answer the question “What is Sleep?” How would you answer that question? You can see the winning entries here. Maybe you will send in an entry for next years’ contest!
A very creative and interesting approach to communicating science that doesn’t involve any talking at all is the “Dance Your PhD” contest. Sponsored by the very prestigious Science Magazine, contestants turn their PhD thesis into a dance. This may sound odd but the competition is in its’ 8th year and has quite a following on social media. It’s an opportunity to blend science and art. Check out previous winners here.
What do you think of Science Cafés, The Flame Challenge, or the PhD Dance Challenge? Would you participate? What other ideas do you have for communicating about complex subjects in a simple way?
For more information on communicating about science, see these Touro Library resources:
Print book at Bay Shore campus: ‘A field guide for science writers’
Print book at Midwood campus: ‘Introducing Science Communication: A practical guide’
Print book at Kew Gardens Hills: ‘Explaining research : how to reach key audiences to advance your work’