I hope you like them!
Two snowfalls in a week – nice.
I’m about to embark upon a month of work that will step me out of the slightly-carved groove I’ve been in of late. For the next two weeks, the Science Museum will be buzzing with half-term visitors. The week after, we’re putting on what could be our most important ever Lates event, and then moving galleries. I really believe in the work that I’m doing, but until recently I’ve been focusing on making sure the lab is functioning well within the Museum; now, I need to show anyone and everyone that what we have is a model of a shattered ivory tower, where anyone can participate in science in a meaningful way.
On Wednesday, two visitors blew me away when they energetically bounced around the gallery playing with the more superficial ‘toys’ we’ve got that mess with the senses. They were mid-20’s, and to talk to them, it was clear that science wasn’t really their ‘thing’ but they were interested enough. Helen, one of the researchers running an experiment in the gallery, convinced them to sit down for an intense, half-hour memory and reaction time test. At first they were approaching it as a game, racing through the sections, but by the end they were absorbed in the repetitive motions and trying to second-guess the information they were giving.
Then, for 15 minutes – and well after the gallery was closed to other visitors – they picked Helen’s brain about the research, asking fundamental questions of what she was trying to find out, why, what outcomes it might get, and what the test would say about them personally. It was a beautiful moment, because it was clearly the first time they had ever been able to have an in-depth conversation with a scientist, and the physical energy they had at the start had transformed into a genuine thirst for understanding.
For that kind of experience to be available, free, to anyone who cares to visit, is good – for the visitors, and for the scientist. They will remember the experience, and I had a quick chat to Helen afterward, and she said that it didn’t happen often, but having people really take an interest in her work was special.
It’s the kind of thing we talked about in the Masters of Science Communication course, and in many ways it’s the purest form of public engagement with science possible. Very few scientists and groups have had the chance, or would take the risk, to operate how we do; I hope we can get the funding to continue making it possible.
Anyway. I will probably be writing more about our work soon, so watch this space for link love!