Communicating your science to the public

29 April 2018 - By: Sabina Baba

COMMUNICATING YOUR SCIENCE TO THE PUBLIC

Gentoo penguins
Gentoo penguins. Photo: Craig Franklin


By Sabina Baba

Science communication to non-scientific audiences has many benefits for researchers and the public alike. For scientists this is an opportunity to explain their work and why it is important which in turn could gain more public support for their research. And you may even find that you will get ideas you never thought about for your research. For the general public, we often find that the media might not always communicate the latest scientific findings accurately and that it tends to focus on the most popular stories. Scientists can play an important role here by helping to better inform the public. In this article we caught up with some of our members to find out about their science communication activities.

CRUISING IN ANTARCTICA

For the past fifteen years, Craig Franklin, the SEB’s Vice-President, has been regularly taking his summer vacation to travel to the Southern Ocean and visit Antarctica as a lecturer and naturalist on board cruise ships. He provides expert insight and delivers a commentary about the wonders of the coldest, driest and windiest continent and its spectacular wildlife. He has logged more than 30 trips to the Antarctic Peninsula and in doing so has had to cross the Drake Passage, between the tip of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula, which although arguably one of the most challenging stretches of ocean on the planet, is an excellent place to see the large albatrosses of the Southern Ocean.

For Craig, lecturing on board these ships provides an opportunity to enhance the passengers’ experiences, appreciation and understanding of the wildlife and ecosystems they encounter. The first lecture passengers get is on the Antarctic Marine Ecosystem and the challenges for life inhabiting water at a temperature of -1.86oC. What he particularly enjoys is lecturing about the physiology and functional morphology of the animals the passengers get to see. This includes giving lectures on gliding and dynamic soaring in albatrosses and the diving physiology of seals and penguins. He even gives a live demonstration of the diving reflex by getting a colleague to put his head into a bucket of ice-cold water and showing the rapid decrease in his heart rate in real-time on a large screen.

Craig first went down to Antarctica in 1985 as a Ph.D. student, with his supervisor Bill Davison, when he worked at New Zealand’s Scott Base on the thermal physiology of Antarctic fish. He later took up a post-doctoral fellowship with Ian Johnston at the Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St. Andrews, which allowed him to continue his research on Antarctic fish. Eight further research expeditions to Scott Base have fuelled his fascination for the wonders of this continent and its biodiversity. In 2003, he wrote the Antarctica Cruising Guide (AWA Press) with Peter Carey, which provides an introduction to the places you can visit on ships and the wildlife you may encounter. 

Prof Craig Franklin
Craig Franklin


Regrettably, during his time travelling to Antarctica, Craig has seen the clear effects of global warming around the Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands. “Some areas that were covered by snow and ice as recently as early this century have become ice free and some places have become greener, with plants exploiting the warmer conditions”, explains Craig. “There have also been substantial declines in the size of some Adelie penguin colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula over the past few decades”. One of the most important lectures Craig gives is on Threats to Antarctic Conservation, where he talks about the impacts of human activity on the continent and its biodiversity. It is here that Craig feels he has the greatest impact in terms of educating and making passengers aware of the effects of global environmental change. It surprises many passengers, especially given that Antarctica is regarded as one of the world’s most pristine places.

SCIENCE ON THE RADIO

A PhD student at Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies (Ben Gurion University, Israel), Buzi Raviv is investigating the dead plant tissues that encapsulate embryos in the dispersal units of plants, such as seed coats, indehiscent dry pericarps and glumes. However Buzi did not always dream of becoming a scientist, but rather he always wanted to be on the radio. “I never gave myself a real chance”, he says, “There was always the other thing to do: finish high school, complete a bachelor’s degree, and work for my PhD”.

  So when he recently noticed that many people around him were doing their research while listening to podcasts he came up with the idea of combining his passion for science with his dream of being on the radio by broadcasting science. “I thought what if they could listen to good music but also science discoveries from the neighbouring labs? And better yet, what if the public could listen to these as well?” Looking into this he realized that it is possible to create a broadcast through internet radio and so his project began.

“I started the project in January 2017. I firstly looked for partners and found four other students who were excited about the idea” says Buzi. “We began broadcasting weekly, mostly in English and we aimed for a wide public. After 6 months of activity using basic recording and editing means, we decided to ask for funding from the University and fortunately they agreed to support our initiative. And so we established a management team and a professional recording studio. We also initiated a training course for podcasters and invited students, non-student residents and the people from the villages in the wider region to participate. To date 12 new podcasters have completed the course and we now have 10 new radio shows running in parallel, of which four deal directly with science and campus life”.

Broadcaster Course Graduation
Broadcaster Course Graduation Photo: Aharon Fait, BGU


Talking about how he selects researchers to be interviewed on their shows, Buzi looks for scientists who can deliver their message in layman’s terms. He also attends the seminars of the researchers he wishes to interview, to get familiarized with the topic and the researcher before the interview.

“I learned a lot about interviewing throughout the project”, he says. “For example I have developed the ability to participate in a seminar and identify very quickly which questions to ask the researcher that would also be interesting for our audience”.
To widen the reach of their content to scientists worldwide but also to the public, Buzi and the team are working towards forming collaborations with other radio stations. “We are currently collaborating with a storytelling community in the US and we share each other’s shows to our communities”, says Buzi. “We are also currently in the process of reaching out to local radio stations to share our content so that we communicate to an even wider public audience”.

For anyone who is interested in starting their own radio show to communicate science, Buzi mentions that “all you need technically is a recording device that could even be your phone, free editing software and a computer”. He adds to also “talk about the initiative with everyone as you must find diverse partners”.

Find out more about the radio show here: https://www.mixcloud.com/sbradio101/ .
 

PUBLIC TALK AT THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY

Based in the Laboratory for Functional Morphology at the University of Antwerp, Dr Francois Druelle’s research is looking at understanding animal locomotion, including human locomotion. For this purpose, he works at the boundary between behaviour, biomechanics and anatomy on different species, from lizards to primates.
Francois is fascinated by the locomotor evolution of primates and our close phylogenetic relationship with these species makes him very curious. “The apparent ease by which these animals move from the ground to the tree, from tree to tree, and adjust their movements in their natural environments, is simply impressive”, says Francois. “I have been a doctor in Biology for almost one year now and I feel very lucky to be studying locomotor dynamics in animals. Hence, having the opportunity to talk about animal (primate) locomotion makes me very glad.”
Francois Druelle
Francois Druelle Photo: Menelia Vasilopoulou-Kampitsi


He recently had such an opportunity to share his knowledge and fascination with this subject with the wider public by giving a talk at the Museum of Natural History in Aix-en-Provence (France) as part of their Fall Conference Cycle. “I have been invited to speak there by a colleague, Dr Guy Dubreuil, who is the former director of the CNRS primatology station in Aix-en-Provence where I used to collect data for my PhD”, he explains.

“During this talk, I aimed to present new advances about human evolution through a broader perspective than the evolution of bipedalism alone. Indeed, humans are bipedal animals, but why are we walking in such a particular manner? Although this question has been asked throughout the 20th Century, it still remains unanswered today. However, thanks to new research frameworks on non-human primates as well as on ourselves, our perspectives are changing, and we are now asking whether this (bipedal) manner to move is really so special, and whether it is the only special locomotor characteristic that humans have (e.g. among other climbing and suspensory capacities).”

Talking about his research to a non-expert audience has been a fantastic experience for Francois. “Science communication to large audiences is particularly important in fundamental research as it is the only way to engage with the wider public and I have always felt dedicated to communicating my work”, he says. He also believes that it is an important way for sharing and improving knowledge of science in society and for encouraging new generations to keep researching. “I thus tried to present the audience with a broader picture than I usually do in a scientific congress. And since wonder generates questions, I also tried to show how astonished and curious I am about the mechanisms of the natural wonders, such as primate locomotion”, explains Francois. “Indeed, my fascination for nature is, undoubtedly, the initial motivation for my research and discussing and sharing this fascination in addition to scientific knowledge to large audiences is the perfect opportunity to link pleasant exchanges and work.”

Do you actively try to communicate your science to the general public or have you recently been involved in any science communication activities? We’d love to hear about it! Get in touch with us on info@sebiology.org and you may get your story published in our magazine or on our website.


Category: Science Communication
Share
Sabina B - 1

Sabina Baba

Sabina is responsible for managing our marketing & communications strategy and activities as well as our member services. Her main role is to ensure we are meeting our member's needs by identifying and delivering impovements to our activities.