What Is Science Communication?

In mid January, I was roped into volunteered to help with what promised to be an exciting and fun day: a Making for Science Communication workshop, run by my ‘Science In Motion’ partner in crime, Morag Hickman.

Morag gathered 16 students and four techie assistants (myself included) into the Humanities department at Imperial College. For 12 hours on a Saturday, we brainstormed, planned, argued, made, photographed, filmed, recorded and edited. I was expecting something along the lines of a craft workshop; what the day actually provided was an insight into the whole process of storytelling and creation of a video, from a concept to completion.

The brief was wide open at the start of the day. The students had been asked to bring in audio clips of people talking around the question, ‘What is Science Communication?’. There were responses from scientists, children and science communicators, with lots of viewpoints represented. Having listened to the contributions, we had our task: put it together in some semblance of order, and then create visuals to go with it. Here’s the result:

It’s a gentle, thoughtful piece, peppered with Haiku poems written by children about science. What was more interesting was the process we went through. I learned just as much as the students, I think!

The quantity and diversity of the audio clips was always going to pose a challenge – probably about half an hour of it all up, and we needed to slice and dice it down into a digestible but still insightful mix. Morag led the group through the early stages of scripting, then let them argue things out. I must say this was the most difficult part of the workshop; Morag’s expertise lies in the creative making side of things, and scripting with a group of 16 is an almost unachievable task. Fortunately, Morag had assembled a team to help with such situations, and introduced Alia in the role of Exective Producer to whip the script quickly into shape. The result perhaps wasn’t ‘ideal’ given the material we had, but it pushed us through to the next phase: making.

Four groups split off, each storyboarding then animating a scene. They had half an hour to do each scene, start to finish; so each little clip in the video above was conceptualised and created, with no rough-cuts or test shooting, in a ridiculously short time. Some worked better than others, but all were an opportunity to experiment with different techniques and think outside of the box when adding visuals to audio.

Morag led this process very effectively: keeping an eye on the time, offering help and advice throughout and providing some great tips and tricks. I spent most of the time compiling stop-motions and helping with camera work; there may be a making-of video soon, which will document more of the process.

I drew a couple of things from the day, even from my slightly-outside-position. One was to see the condensed creative process, and where sticking points lie in such time-limited projects. The value of being able to mull over problems and ideas is huge. Another was to see just how much can be achieved in a short time using relatively simple techniques.

Clearly, the video is far from polished, but it was created in one day by a group with, functionally, zero experience! It was exhausting – 14 hours, in the end – but I’m confident that reflecting on the process, difficulties and success of the day will give the students a platform to build their skills from, which would take much longer to build through self-exploration alone.

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Categories: communication, Science, Videos | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “What Is Science Communication?

  1. I really like the range of different styles and the way the visuals are produced to fit the audio. I think the strength and quality of the audio also really adds to this and I’m quite interested in the idea of producing ‘polished’ audio pieces and then setting them to some sort of visuals.

    Have you seen any of the Radiolab video shorts, a similar idea to this and worth a watch: http://vimeo.com/8186700

    • Cool Ed, yes, I think starting with audio and animating it is nice. The quality of the audio varied quite a lot, but I think a project like this, with a bit tighter story, more consistent production value and some more time investment could really be beautiful.

      The Radiolab short is nice – especially because it uses dead space, keeping the emphasis on the audio component. So… project?

      • Yes!

        I’ve been interested for a while in producing a collection or series of ‘audio vignettes’ of around 3-5 minutes long, profiling an individual or the work they do, or even just detailing a scientific concept. I really liked the Stephen Curry segment in that video. I’d be interested in experimenting with an audio slide show sort of thing (with high-quality stills).

        If you’ve listened to the Adam as machine and Winters Rest pieces I’ve made – I’d love to produce something similar to those, but perhaps a little more focused and with a visual dimension to augment the sound. I think a lot of the time audio is really neglected in short form video production (in terms of the stuff commonly published on the web) but in my opinion it’s one of the most important elements.

        The two recent Kew videos are a really interesting example – they are visually and aurally stunning (as in I think they’d be strong pieces even if they were just presented as audio) – they sound as if they have been made for radio!


        I think because video is such an immediate and rich medium, it’s often much harder to achieve the same impact with audio on it’s own (even with beautifully produced pieces). So producing a strong audio piece and providing it with a visual component almost gives it this additional ‘legitimacy’.

        So yes I’d be very interested in experimenting with some sort audio-visual project – just to see what could be done!

  2. On the subject of science communication, are you aware of Khan Academy?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch&v=gM95HHI4gLk

  3. Chris

    Totally unable to read this blog. The font colour did not stand out against the dark background at all. Have you changed something???

  4. Chris

    When I posted my comment, it changes back to normal. Weird things computers.

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