The Seattle Science Festival is here!

scifest1
Inspired by one image on the video introduction for the Seattle Science Festival

On Thursday night I bailed out from a picnic and concert with  friends, but they are ok with it because they know I couldn’t help it. The Seattle Science Festival is happening this week and Thursday was the opening night. How could I not be at the Paramount theater for the event?

The main feature was the west coast premiere of  Icarus at the Edge of Time, “a stunning multimedia performance about a boy who challenges the formidable power of a black hole”. Music by Philip Glass performed live by the Garfield Orchestra under the direction of Marcus Tsutakawa. Live narration by Kal Penn. The speakers for the evening got me first excited about going to the theater, and the trailer of Icarus intrigued me, as I seldom see this kind of multimedia performances in Seattle:

The evening started with Jennifer Ouellette, from Cocktail Party Physics blog, introducing her husband Sean Carroll (From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time). He talked about the arrow of time, and how physicists understand entropy as the reason for time moving in one direction. He did a great job telling  it for a general audience, Next was Adam Frank  (About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang) talking about how cosmology and our idea of time are always following each other. Brian Greene (The Elegant Universe,  Icarus at the Edge of Time) came last to introduce Icarus at the Edge of Time. He set the stage by telling us about black holes, and then he let the visuals and music tell the story. I watched the performance invoking my 11-year-old self and I loved it, completely identified with Icarus. I also watched it invoking my slightly jaded adult self and I felt deeply moved by the music and visuals, identifying more with his father now.

After the performance I went home happy and looking forward to experience the rest of this Seattle Science Festival. I recomend you to check the excelent science options for all ages offered during the next week. For more information about the festival go to their webpage: http://www.seattlesciencefestival.org do not miss the big Expo Day on Saturday 8th.

Keep your eyes open, because you never know what you can learn from other attendants

What
Alan Boyle and Michael Venables at the opening night for the Seattle Science Festival

I arrived early to the Paramount theater to get my ticket before they sold out. What a fun thing to wait for the doors to open in company of people excited about science and very knowledgeable!

Here is a picture of some folks I met at the Paramount’s corner, do you recognize them? Hint: one is NBC News Digital’s science editor  the other is a science contributor to Forbes magazine.  That is the magic of the science festivals, that you can learn a lot in the presentations, but also that you can learn even more from people you may find on the streets.

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Want scientists that know how to tell their stuff in public? Vote Engage now!

voteengage

A group of graduate students at university of Washington wanted to tell great science stories, and bring them to the public venues of Seattle. They built a student seminar called Engage Science that teaches storytelling and presentation techniques to a diverse group of graduate students. Those students give a public presentation on a theater or another public venue.  For three years Seattle’s public has benefited by an engaging window to the science done at University of Washington. The students benefit too by acquiring invaluable communication skills useful inside and outside the “Ivory Tower”. Now Engage Science is asking NSF to help other graduate students do the same all over the country. For that we ask you to please vote for Engage here.

Why are science stories important for you?

A good story can keep you glued to the chair, it makes you travel places with your imagination, and sometimes tells you something about you that you didn’t know before. A good science history can do that and more; it also gives you the facts that are currently know about of world. Well-crafted science stories bring entertainment, inspiration, and knowledge. The kind of knowledge necessary to take informed decisions about our future.

So, why not giving me just the scientific facts?

We are humans, and often we need a reason to really listen to other person, specially if they come with a lot of information about something we think we know enough or are not interested to hear. The story is a form of communication that brings together storyteller and listener, and opens the door for a real dialog. There is a personal connection needed for real knowledge contagion.

Scientists are smart, can they figure out how to tell a story themselves?

Sure, some scientists are extremely good storytellers, but they are a minority in an environment were the listeners are experts of your own field. Scientists in sub-disciplines benefit from a common language and shared previous knowledge, but that made their stories too obscure and uninteresting for non-scientist. This Engage proposal that you will support with your vote wants to help those scientists that want to tell their stories to a broader audience. It will provide seed money to establish a seminar like Engage Science in other schools, using the free Engage blueprint if desired. For more details and to read the proposal please visit this page: http://www.engage-science.com/vote-for-our-nsf-graduate-education-challenge-entry/

Please vote for Engage Science! Last day to vote is May 29th.

Thank you

Los festivales de ciencia en números: Nuevos públicos y más niños.

Summary: The Science Festivals Alliance (SFA) asked an independent firm to evaluate the outcome of four science festivals over three years. The abridged results are available now and show positive results in the engagement of the general public and making inroads with minorities and families. 

Los festivales de ciencia envuelven muchos recursos de entidades públicas y privadas, y el trabajo de cientos de personas pagadas y voluntarios en las ciudades en que se realizan. Cuál es el resultado de todo éste esfuerzo? Un estudio reciente mide el impacto de estos festivales en cuatro ciudades de Norteamérica, durante los años 2010 al 2012. Aquí discuto parte de sus interesantes resultados y cómo benefician especialmente a las comunidades que normalmente no tienen acceso a la ciencia.

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Durante un festival de ciencia los resultados se ven en las caras de los niños y los no tan niños que interactúan con los científicos de una manera novedosa y divertida. La imaginación encendida que se aprecia en sus miradas y sus exclamaciones de entusiasmo al entender algo nuevo son invaluables. Pero en un mundo de limitados recursos hay que preguntarse si las ferias científicas son la mejor inversión para promover la educación científica en nuestras ciudades.

La alianza de festivales de ciencia (SFA por sus siglas en inglés) comisionó un estudio independiente para evaluar el impacto de los festivales de ciencia que ocurren anualmente en Cambridge, San Diego, Filadelfia y la Bahía de San Francisco. Cada uno de estos festivales de ciencia atrae entre 50,000 y 100,000 espectadores en un período de aproximadamente una semana. El estudio se basa en encuestas a espectadores en los diversos eventos durante los tres años y tiene resultados realmente alentadores: Las ferias de ciencia tienen excelentes resultados atrayendo a públicos que normalmente no tienen acceso a otros sitios de enseñanza informal de la ciencia, como los museos.

Una inmensa mayoría de encuestados manifestó que se divirtieron muchísimo aprendiendo ciencia durante la feria, además nueve de cada diez personas logró interactuar con un científico, técnico, ingeniero o matemático (profesional STEM por sus siglas en inglés). Los que lograron interactuar con un profesional STEM tuvieron una experiencia más positiva que los que no lo hicieron, resaltando la importancia de la participación de estos profesionales en las ferias. El dato que es aún más interesante es que uno de cada cinco encuestados manifestaba que era la primera vez en sus vidas que interactuaban con alguien en esas profesiones.

Aunque la mayoría de personas que contestó la encuesta eran de raza blanca, el número de personas de razas minoritarias que respondieron las encuestas en las ferias de ciencia subió año tras año, sugiriendo un incremento en interés y número de participantes de grupos sociales normalmente marginados en actividades de educación informal de la ciencia en EEUU. Esto es importante debido que personas de las minoría raciales reportaron que interactuaban con un profesional STEM por primera vez en su vida durante la feria dos veces más a menudo que los participantes de raza blanca. En general, no solamente se encontró este efecto de acercamiento de las minorías a practicantes de la ciencia, tecnología, ingeniería y matemática, sino que una proporción mayor de familias participaron en los carnavales o exhibiciones de las ferias (78%) comparados con la proporción normal de un museo como el Smithsonian (43%). En resumen: más gente teniendo su primer contacto con un profesional STEM y más familias con niños asistiendo a las ferias de ciencia. Eso es en pocos números lo que yo llamo una victoria en la educación informal de ciencia.

Lecturas adicionales (en inglés)

Three Years of Evaluation in Twelve Pages– Ben Wiehe

The role of science festivals– John Durant

Good News: Science Festivals are an Effective Outreach Tool– Matt Shipman


Science communication training: raising the bar inside and outside academia

The scientist that forgot how to tell a story.
The scientist that forgot how to tell a story.

This week two newspapers featured school seminars that help graduate students communicate their science to general audiences. The Seattle Times featured Engage Science from University of Washington and the Long Island Newsday featured the Center for Communicating Science of Stony Brook University*. Those programs recognize a need for “communication literacy” on scientific education and represent an awesome professional (and personal) development tool for the students that take the seminars. I firmly believe scientists that like to talk about their research should be able to find a similar seminar or class elsewhere. There is a need for it, and there is a growing group of students acquiring communication training to pursue “non-traditional” science careers (now the majority of job opportunities) where the ability to communicate concisely and in plain English is very valuable.

“The goal of the [Engage Science] course, founded by graduate students, is to teach young scientists how to share their passions for cosmology, chemistry or evolutionary biology without putting people to sleep. The program is one of several springing up across the country, fueled by a new generation of researchers who see public outreach as integral to their jobs.” — Seattle Times

Those scientists will fulfill a key role by showing a more human scientist to the public, somebody non-scientist can understand and relate to. The need is there for those scientists who can communicate science effectively; experts need to bring the scientific consensus in Global Warming to a broader audience and they need to expose the hidden dangers of widespread use of antibiotics. Scientific literacy is not a luxury when those subjects can have such a big impact on people’s lives.

The other role for this bunch of scientists trained on presentation design, jargon removal and storytelling will be inside their research institutions. They will raise the bar for scientific presentations for scientific audiences.

“Though we typically perceive scientists in white lab coats conducting experiments, a critical part of their work involves giving lectures and making presentations.” Long Island Newsday

I spent so many years attending boring scientific  talks that I forgot how to tell a story, and I forgot that the presentation is a lot more than the graphs or the slides. We need scientists trained in communication inside and outside academia. Luckily I got help from Engage Science at UW, and I think I am starting to get better at telling stories. I hope you agree. You can read my take on the lessons learned during the Engage seminar at “Bringing science back, one story at a time” and  the invited post “Scientists are human too”

(*) The article is behind a pay-wall but excerpts of the text are available at the Center for Communicating Science Facebook page.

Related post:

Engage Science Students Blog Post: http://www.engage-science.com/

On the need of opportunities and rewards for science communication http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2013/03/steering-into-skid-what-can-we-fix-with.html

The soap opera model of science communication, scientists as real people: http://neurodojo.blogspot.com/2013/03/blockbusters-and-telenovelas-models-for.html

NIH funding

Please read and consider helping

Science Politics

Funding levels for the remainder of FY2013 have been set (see this recent AAAS article that details the effects the FY2013 appropriations bill will have on research funding levels – for example, NIH will be funded 4.8% less than FY2012).

Both the US Senate and House of Representatives have also just passed individual, non-binding FY2014 Budget Resolutions which vary greatly in both their approach to deficit reduction and their support for science funding. Now, Representatives Ed Markey (D-MA) and David McKinley (R-WV) are circulating a “Dear Colleague Letter” calling for an increase in NIH funding for FY2014 to $32 billion.

The letter begins:

As Members of Congress who value the critical role played by the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) in better health outcomes, job creation, and economic growth, we
respectfully request that the NIH receives at least $32 billion for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014.
We feel this amount is the minimum level of funding…

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The revenge of the corals: a Tsunami story this Monday at Town Hall Seattle

English: Pago Pago, AS, October 1, 2009 -- Pag...
English: Pago Pago, AS, October 1, 2009 — Pago Pago, American Samoa, October 1, 2009 – A boat sits on its side as it was moved during the tsunami that hit American Samoa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine a fishermen in Tutuila island, American Samoa. An earthquake a few hundred kilometers away triggers a tsunami alert while he is  listening to the boat’s radio near harbor. His options are clear: either to take his fishing boat to deeper waters and save his means of subsistence, or to abandon boat and go home to make sure his family makes it to the hills. He has twenty minutes to decide, and the difference between his family being safe or in danger is how far inland the Tsunami will go. Can scientist help him decide what to do?

Derya Itir Dilmen is a PhD student at the University of Washington and part of this year’s Engage Science class. She studies computer tools to forecast tsunamis after earthquakes and to create tsunami hazard maps. Derya’s computer work on gigantic waves is surprisingly affected by including a microscopic very small organism –Coral. Coral reefs are destroyed by a passing tsunami but the giant wave does not leave unscratched, and that may be the difference between having a safe family inland or not. She studies coral tsunami destruction in Tutuila and estimates the strength of the tsunami in different areas, and she have some cool stories to tell you about her work.

Please come on Monday evening to Town Hall Seattle for a jargon-free talk by Derya. She will tell you how studying the coral-tsunami interaction may help scientist make more accurate tsunami predictions, providing the kind of timely information that saves lives.

“Revenge of the corals” UW Science Now. Monday, March 11, 2013, 9:00 – 9:30pm. Downstairs at Town Hall.

El exitoso MinutePhysics lanza MinuteEarth y estrena voz latina

¿Tienes un minuto? ¿Podrías explicarme la mecánica cuántica por favor?

Hay gente que sí puede explicar lo complicado en un par de minutos y lo hace muy bien. Henry Reich en MinutePhysics explora la mecánica cuántica y otros conceptos difíciles a través del dibujo y la narración. Sus videos consisten en dibujos simples que van creciendo a medida que avanza la explicación. La combinación de dibujo, palabra escrita y narración hacen que las ideas sean fáciles de entender y entretenidas. Henry Reich logra explicar lo difícil de manera divertida y su canal MInutePhysics es uno de mis favoritos en YouTube.

Hoy MinutePhysics nos dio dos excelentes noticias. La primera noticia es que nació MinuteEarth, donde podremos aprender sobre la ciencia e historias de nuestro planeta y que ya tiene más de 25,000 subscriptores en las primeras 12 horas de funcionamiento. La segunda noticia es que ahora MinutePhysics y MinuteEarth son también MinutoDeFisica y MinutoDeLaTierra. La narración es ahora en castellano con la voz y traducción del venezolano Ever Salazar. Los sitios nuevos están geniales y el plan es traducir y narrar todos los videos en castellano, sin los subtítulos que distraen y le restan mucho al aspecto visual de los videos.No puedo dejar de preguntarme como traducirán el episodio de MinutePhysics: “Is There Poop on the Moon?“.

Te recomiendo visitar estos nuevos sitios en YouTube, vale la pena!