Whole Lotto Love

One of the benefits of studying at Imperial in London is that the city is a hub for so much science communication. The faculty’s well connected and we get excellent guest speakers each week. The most interesting and inspirational so far (in my humble opinion) came this week, from Beau Lotto (of Lottolab). His work focuses on the science of perception, which is specialised in its technical study but also universal in its experience.

A reflection of the world in a cat’s eye. How does he see it?

It’s the universality of perception that makes Beau’s work great for public presentation. He can demonstrate real perception experiments and illusions with any audience, tying them in with his research projects and ideas. However, it wasn’t his prowess as a purveyor of perception tricks that piqued my interest. I was fascinated with his work merging public engagement, education and outreach.

The work shot to fame just before Christmas when the academic journal Biology Letters published a paper, written in kids-speak, by a class of 8-10 year old students, about perception and foraging in bees. The paper is worth a read – it’s jargon-free, and the abstract places it in a more familiar academic context.

Evening light catches the outline of a bee back on the Gold Coast in April 2010…

The concept of facilitating groups of the public (in this case school children, which is probably the most functional type of group for this activity) in doing real scientific work is immensely exciting for me. While I worked for Waterwatch on the Gold Coast, taking students out to waterways and getting them to collect real data which was collated into a monitoring database, I was continually amazed at how enthusiastic they were.

A key ingredient, I think, was that their hands-on stuff was given a purpose and a context. We explained that the data wasn’t just going to sit on their worksheets and get marked by a teacher, but used for years to come in decision-making about the waterways. We also explained why it’s good to know all of the information we were collecting, and tried to make it relevant to their lives. They were also able to get the results in real-time, though I don’t think a delayed reward (as in the case of the Blackawton Bees study, which took a while) would be an obstacle to the success of such a program.

Unfortunately Waterwatch wasn’t quite funded and organised to a level where it could reach its full potential, but it was a great learning experience. I often wondered who was having more fun, me or the students. Apparently, Beau’s going to be working on some new projects in London at the Science Museum, and I’m very keen to see if I can get involved!

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Categories: Science, Thoughts, Videos | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Whole Lotto Love

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Whole Lotto Love « David Robertson -- Topsy.com

  2. George

    Lovely post Dave. I need to go and interview him and find out more…

  3. One great thing about getting children involve is that they don’t have any preconception of certain matters, and thus do not prejudge. Their mind is not cloistered with limits.

    • I agree. They don’t have much background knowledge of what has come before, and so they’re about as ‘fresh’ as can be. That might mean they repeat pretty obvious ideas a lot, but their creativity can also go to places that a trained specialist would dismiss or not think of!

  4. as a student, I always needed purpose and context, it has to make sense to me, otherwise I get bored

  5. Didn’t you love the way he drew a clear connection between the project of science as a formalised extension of human curiosity, and the innate curiosity of children? Also his belief in the idea of ‘transformation’ through what we experience as a universal human trait that crosses C.P. Snow’s boundaries. Great stuff!

    • Yes Steve, he captured the true heart of scientific endeavour so well. It’s a formalisation of what we do all our lives, but a formalisation that, if approached correctly, is empowering and inspiring. I am hoping to cue up some work experience on his projects soon!

  6. Pingback: Sunday Science: Some of My Favourites | David Robertson

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