Friday, October 7, 2016

The three E's

I do Science Communication with the three E’s in mind:
Spectrum of a mercury discharge tube
with a home made spectroscope.
Photo Credit: Tom Gordon

  • Engagement and the public awareness of science (PAS)
  • Education and the public understanding of science (PUS)
  • Enrolment and the public involvement of science (PIS)

Each approach has relevance and to be honest most of the time all three have a part to play in any communication of science. Kind of like when we throw a ball in the air as an example of  Newton's first law, it’s actually an example of all three of Newton's laws, and more! The three E’s also apply to more than facts, they apply to Meta Science Communication1 and the scientific method as well. The skills of science like determining good and bad arguments, like understanding logical fallacies, like the ability to interpret graphs, and the discipline of staying with an argument.

Engagement is to wow an audience/group. It’s to hook them and show them the wonders of nature. Not to teach them, but to have them not afraid of the word Science, or to have warm fuzzy feelings when they remember the thing you showed them or talked to them about. As an example I love talking about Narwhals. I love to ask people why we need to believe in unicorns, when we have real life unicorns...real life aquatic unicorns! Or, we have put Robots on other planets! Facts like those bring a smile to my face, a smile that tells a story of someone who loves what he does, and wants to share it with others.

Education is to teach people about science formally or informally. We do this with facts. We learn things and we learn how to learn more things. The reason we teach people Science, is so they can apply what they have leant in order to do more science, or apply science and science understanding in their respective areas. Again, this can involved narratives and stories. There is a whole move in Science education towards SHE or Science a Human Endeavour. Where the objective is to find out what scientists do, who they are, why they do it etc. A human story.

Enrolment is to encourage people to find out more. It could be that they go and study a course at uni, or other place, it could be that they enrol in a MOOC, or read a book/blog listen to a science podcast, or just try and find out some more for themselves through other means.

This is mostly a joy, as a science communicator I get to talk to a lot of people who like to learn about science. I wouldn’t say this is preaching to the converted or tribalism. Most people do want to learn more, even people ‘on the inside’ I love to hear what others think, even from inside my field, there’s a chance I might learn something! And that excites me.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

World Record Astronomy

Last year, I organised a school community to do something amazing. I organised over 200 people to participate in and break a world record, do some fundraising for the school community, have a fun night out and do some astronomy! Amazing on all counts!

The event was a part of a world record attempt run by Dr Brad Tucker and the people at Mt Stromlo for the most people stargazing at one time across different locations.

We smashed it by the way! A total of 7960 participants . 114 of those contributed by me and the wonderful people of my kids’ school community! A small but very important contribution.

This event was one of my highlights from last year and from that success, I’ve been asked to do it again, and I’m really considering it! The was so much happening on the night, we had dinner prepared by the Parent & Citizens to raise some money for the school, We had 2 lectures by our resident Scientist in School about astronomy & planets, we had a couple of episodes of COSMOS by Neil DeGrasse Tyson playing, we had a Starlab (a mobile planetarium) and of course the main event, a world record attempt at stargazing. To complete the night, a few families even stayed back on the school grounds and had a campout! Wonderful! It was a to to pack into a few hours and it was a lot of fun!

Some highlights included:
  • Breaking the world record!
  • The parting of the clouds right when we needed to start our times world record attempt. The sky was very cloudy for the entire night but right 8:30 when the 10 minute viewing window was happening, the clouds parted to reveal the moon and a single star. I couldn’t place the star as there was no other star available to locate it, but it was pretty bright so it might have been Sirius.
  • The talks and the Starlab. Such a hit and a great intro into some really exciting astronomy.
  • Getting a call from an amateur astronomy group the day before asking if he could bring their 16” Dobsonian. My answer was yes, and Wow! It was a huge telescope!
  • Getting to talk to over 200 students and parents for more than 3 hours about. astronomy, planets, stars, galaxies, the big bang etc. I love talking about this stuff, and on this occasion, and to this day, everyone wanted to join in.
  • After the event, I calculated that the viewing area of all the telescopes that we had on the night, was more than double the size of the Hubble Space Telescope
The coolest part of the event though, was when I did the countdown to 8:30, our start time. I counted down from 10 and in between numbers 7 and 6, I thought to myself, "I've just organised for over 200 people to do something science-y that they would normally never do, all at once, ON PURPOSE!" Such a great moment. I could barely contain my excitement! I was like a little kid with a telescope looking up at the moon and the stars for the first time.

Apart from smashing the world record, the stargazing night was a huge win for astronomy communication and science. People will remember this night for a long time, and a few of the students will remember the excitement when they’re about 15 and deciding which subjects they want to do in school. A huge number of students are now more comfortable talking about astronomy and still use their small telescope to look at the stars in their own time. For pure levels of engagement, I don’t think I’ve been a part of, or helped organise a more successful single science communication event. I encourage everyone to host a viewing night for a school, community, group of friends, local amateur astronomy society etc. A viewing night is a great example of astronomy communication at its best. If you need help, I can let you know more about how we did it. When you do run your own event, let me know, I’ll do what I can to join you!

I am officially inviting and challenging everyone to break our world record. It’ll be really tough to do, but I’d love to see you try!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

STEMpunk podcast

I've started to make/produce a podcast as a science communication exercise. The podcast, STEMpunk, (nice name huh??) came out of a meeting with me, Christie Mcmonigal from UTS and Shane Hengst from UNSW.

In Science week 2015, we sat down for a lunch and I asked what can we do together? I basically wanted to firstly, pursue another way to communicate science, and secondly, to communicate science with other science communicators. Essentially, if we can't communicate science with other science communicators, then we might not be doing our jobs very well!

We've interviewed some pretty cool people so far and also have had some interesting discussions, and of course, because of the interesting contacts that we all have with our repsective roles, we'll have some very cool guests coming up soon.

You can contact Christie, Shane and I through the STEMpunk podcast website, on facebook, or Twitter.

Our podcast is on iTunes and PlayerFM (Android)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Candle timing experiment

I was challenged to do some science communication with a candle. I wanted to try a simple citizen science project, so that everyone else can be a part of the experiment too! So I thought of how I can learn something about candles and citizen science, and now you can learn with me!
The aims of this experiment are:

1. To find how accurately we can measure time with drops of wax from a birthday candle. 
2. To try a collaborative citizen science and science communication project using online tools and mobile devices.
The thing I hope to learn, is if it is possible to run an experiment in this way. The thing I hope you learn, is something about candles, something about the scientific process, the fact that you can do a unique science experiment with everyday objects and a phone (seriously, as far as I can tell, no-one has done this before, perhaps there's a reason for that)! I also hope that you engage in the scientific process a little bit.
Once enough data has been collected, the results will be published and advertised here: There is a good amount of data we're collecting here, so hopefully we'll be able to find out something interesting together!
Candles have been used for timers in the past, but they were custom calibrated candles. The historical candle timers were designed to show a rough passage of time.
What are we looking for in this experiment? Certainly not a new timing device, we have extremely accurate timing devices available. We will not discover a new accurate timing device to rival caesium clocks.
What we will do, is participate in an online science experiment. You can do this entire experiment on one device (phone, tablet etc), the measurement, the data entry and analysis! This shows off the simplicity of this experiment, and also the complexity of our mobile devices. We can do an entire science experiment on a phone!
This experiment is for everyone, but has been designed for simplicity as well as with some obvious links to the "Working Scientifically" syllabus requirement in primary and high school science. Please feel free ot send it along to anyone you think might be interested.
If this works, I'll be trying it again for sure!
Contact me if you have any questions or issues with the experiment
Also, feel free to take a picture of your setup and tag me on instagram @kickstartphysics, or twitter @Gordeauz