Early one sunny morning last month, sixteen students on the MSc in Science Communication arrived at Imperial College wondering what the weekend workshop would have in store. Twelve hours later – after a frantic day arranging puppets, plasticine, and cameras – we had produced a film.
The workshop was run by Morag Hickman, herself an alumnus of the science communication course, and the film was produced with the help of professional assistants Alia Sheik, Andy Vine, David Hing and David Robertson. Our aim was to create an imaginative story format featuring a range of people, from children to researchers and professors, reflecting on science communication, its purpose and role. Morag drew a big clock to timetable the day and we set to work.
By compiling interview clips together with visual animations we hoped to illustrate the different metaphors by which science communication can be explained. For example, science communication can act as a bridge between scientists and the public to help important ideas to be spread. I find this metaphor particularly useful because it highlights the importance of a two-way exchange of ideas between scientists and society.
A comment by Professor Stephen Curry of Imperial College emphasises the implications of this – he suggests that the public are pushing scientists to re-think their position and role in society, making them focus on researching what really matters to people rather than being driven purely by intellectual curiosity.
In another clip, Nicholas Harrigan, a post-doctoral researcher in Imperial’s Department of Physics (and 2007 FameLab winner), reflects on the reward of science communication, not as a way of indoctrinating the public but as a means of enabling constructive criticism by the public.
At the end of the long workshop marathon, I reached two main conclusions. First, by encouraging frequent discussion about their research, a critical public is not only beneficial to the wider society, but also to scientists themselves. And second, and without wanting to challenge Hollywood, making a film in just twelve hours is a very great achievement.