Archive | March, 2014

Science Communication at the #SharingScienceUBC Conference

31 Mar

My schedule for the past month and a half has been stuffed with conferences – from IPSEC to AAAS, to BC Outreach Workshop and now Sharing Science at UBC – I must admit that I shouldn’t complain about all the great science outreach and communication work I have seen!

The Sharing Science Conference is a science communication conference. The conference was student-driven, organized by the UBC student club Carl Sagan Association for the Communication of Science. This conference was also a collaboration with UBC Faculty of Science, the Science and Technology Studies of UBC Faculty of Arts, and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

If you missed the Sharing Science Conference, don’t worry – here is a summary to help you catch up. Click on the image below to access the story via Storify. Enjoy!

Storify - Sharing Science

Link roundup – BICEP2, the Big Bang, and the Inflation Theory

27 Mar

In the past two weeks, the biggest news in science was probably the detection of the comic microwave background pattern (due to gravitational waves from the early universe)  that serves as the evidence for the inflation theory. Ever since the news broke, many people and media outlets have written about this – and here is a collection of the articles if you are interested in learning more about the discovery as well as its impact.

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

The BICEP2 telescope at twilight, which occurs only twice a year at the South Pole. The MAPO observatory (home of the Keck Array telescope) and the South Pole station can be seen in the background. (Photo credit: Steffen Richter, Harvard University)

Original publications on arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder, E. Bullock & C. D. Dowell (2014). BICEP2 I: Detection Of B-mode Polarization at Degree Angular Scales, arXiv:

BICEP2 Collaboration, P. A. R Ade, R. W. Aikin, M. Amiri, D. Barkats, S. J. Benton, C. A. Bischoff, J. J. Bock, J. A. Brevik, I. Buder & E. Bullock (2014). BICEP2 II: Experiment and Three-Year Data Set, arXiv:

BICEP2 results: BICEP2 2014 Results Release – including the papers, figures, video (technical and news conference), Q & A, images, etc

BBC articles:

New York Times has a pretty comprehensive story on it along with some graphic explanation: Space Ripples Reveal Big Bang’s Smoking Gun

Nature News has a whole special feature dedicated to this, including Q & A and discussion of implications: Special – Waves from the Big Bang

Some shameless self-promotion / Canadian context: My department got a little bit of attention because one of our faculty members, Dr. Mark Halpern, is one of the co-authors of the BICEP2 papers (I believe there are also collaborators from the University Toronto). Here are some interviews with Mark.

Now let’s be cautious here: 

Matt Strassler, theoretical physicist and a visiting scholar at Harvard, put together some posts about the BICEP2 results in his blog post If It Holds Up, What Might BICEP2′s Discovery Mean?. He is “cautiously optimistic” at the moment, which is a good place to be for scientists 🙂  His posts have more scientific content, but you can find a lot of background information on his site (mostly hyperlinked throughout his posts. You can also just start from the March 17th post).

Neil Turok, the Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute, “urges caution on BICEP2 results” in a physicsworld.com article. Granted, he is not exactly a supporter of the inflation theory to begin with – he has a bet with Stephen Hawking on it, and Hawking is now claiming vistory. If you scroll down to the middle of the BBC article Cosmic inflation: ‘Spectacular’ discovery hailed, you can find a sound clip of Stephen Hawking and Neil Turok’s perspectives on the BICEP2 evidence (Hawking: I won! Turok: Not yet!).

This crazy Universe – or universes? Sean Carroll from Caltech wrote about the evidence for inflation and its implication for “multiverse” in New York Times Opinionator article When Nature Looks Unnatural (A shorter highlight could be found on io9). He also expanded on the topic on his personal blog, The Preposterous Universe.

Onto the lighter side of things: See how Andrei Linde, one of the main authors of the inflation theory, reacted to the news re: BICEP2 results delivered by Chao-Lin Kuo, a co-author of the BICEP2 papers.

If you have any additional resources or articles to add, please feel free to comment below. Otherwise, enjoy!

The state of science events around the world in one huge blog post

26 Mar

Things have been relatively quiet on this blog – mostly because work became rather hectic in the past two months, with me running from conferences to workshops, from workshops to science competitions. I finally have some time now to sort out all the notes I took when I was at the International Public Science Events Conference (a pre-conference to AAAS) and the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago in February. There w

Going to conferences is always very exciting – and this time it is particularly so. First of all, I had never been to Chicago!!! (and NOW I know why people were complaining about Chicago winter…) Secondly, I never thought that I could attend conferences for science outreach and communication. But most importantly, it is an opportunity to meet people from around the world to chat about what we are working on, the issues we encounter, and come up with potential solutions and collaborations in the future.

Here are my notes from the session, “The State of Science Events: Reports from Across the World and Across Sectors” during IPSEC. Through the session, I was hoping to learn what other countries are doing for science outreach and communications, how science communication “entities” (for the lack of better words?) are structured, and also how we in Canada do in comparison to other countries – and I was not disappointed.

Let’s start with Australia.

Australia – The “Inspiring Australia” program is part of the Department of Industry, Government of Australia. It’s main objective is science engagement and communication. The program provides science engagement awards, develop toolkits for science engagement, commission reports on science engagement within Australia, organize the Big Science Summit for Science Communication (I want to go to this! Time to buy lottery…), and coordinate the country’s National Science Week.

From the program came many cool ideas for the National Science Week – Simon France, the manager for the program, said that they were using small ideas with big impacts:

According to Simon, having a national lead is critical in getting university/organization buy-in. This is something to keep in mind.

UKThe British Science Association is a charity organization. Based on their 2012 financial report, most of the association’s income came from grant funding, sponsorship, and charging for events and activities. 

Master BRISCI_0

The British Science Association’s vision is a society in which people are able to access science, engage with it and feel a sense of ownership about its direction. We provide opportunities for people of all ages to discuss, investigate, explore and challenge science, through our annual programme of events and activities.

Their activities include running the British Science Festival (reaching 43,000 visitors in 2012), organizing the National Science and Engineering Week (with 1.6 million people participating), helping scientists develop communications and engagement skills, organizing science competitions, and supporting local branches. They also run an annual science communication conference. In my impression, UK has been in the forefront of science communication, and it was pointed out by Imran Khan, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, during the session:

We don’t consider tennis or politics just as a thing that tennis players and politicians do, yet science and scientist seems to get that <impression>.  So there is still work to do cultural-wise.

China – Each year, CAST (the China Association for Science and Technology, the largest national non-governmental organization for scientific and technological workers in China) runs its National Science Festival. According to Yang Lijun, Director, Division of Public Science Events for the CAST, the annual participation is incredible. Unfortunately I don’t recall the exact number being either 20 million or 200 million (only that there was a huge gasp from the audience when she said the number), but a reference I found stated that in the past 10 years, more than 700 million people participated in the activities, a number that most of us could only dream of. The Festival is also a way to celebrate China’s National Law on popularization of science and technology, which again, is something that most of us could only dream of…

Europe The European Science Events Association (Eusea) has 90 members in 36 countries. This means that the association needs to cover 500 million people in Europe who speak different languages. Jan Riise, Director of the European Science Events Association, said that this makes it tricky to have a central conference and to coordinate different events. Because of the difference in language, culture, and geography, science centres, museums, and festival could be quite far apart from each other, leading to isolation and possible miscommnication.

eusea

However, the European Union is doing its job in keeping the Eusea together. EU recently announced (January 2014) “Horizon 2020” Programme

Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU Research and Innovation programme ever with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. It promises more breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts by taking great ideas from the lab to the market.

Within Horizon 2020, a specific program called “science with and for the society” with a budget of 500 million Euro (!!) will be included – and it seems that Eusea will be well supported via this channel.

US –  The Science Festival Alliance is a professional association of independent science and technology festivals, supposed by the US National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It is also the organization behind the IPSEC. The annual report for the SFA is now available online. According to the annual report, almost 1 million people attended SFA member events. The SFA also grew from 17 members in 2012, to 42 members by the end of 2013 – some of which are organizing their first festival event in the coming year. What’s in the future? Its manager Ben Wiehe from the MIT museum mentioned that live science events are finally being recognized these days; for SFA, how to come together to support [each other] but to also allow diversity, is still a puzzle and will be the goal for the coming year.

SFA Annual Report is now available for download. Image source:  www.sciencefestivals.org

SFA Annual Report is now available for download. Image source: http://www.sciencefestivals.org

Italy (Genoa Science Festival) – “In Italy, it is better not to be coordinated.” Arata Manuela, President of the Associazione Festival della Scienza, started with this jokingly. The Genoa Science Festival / Festival della Scienza is an annual cultural event (in fact, this is something that was discussed many timely throughout the conference – should science events be about just science, or about the culture of science? Many, including me, agree that is should be the later if we do want to reach the general public). The event was described by Arata as

a model at international level for science dissemination; a bench mark for science communication; a melting pot of researchers, artists, creative people, opinion makers with people keen on science, schools, and families; a think tank; an added value for the Country namely the City.

(Oh man, I want to go to this too)

The impact of the Genoa Science Festival has been significant, both culturally and economically, as the event brings in a large number of visitors that hotels in the city are typically fully booked. And, this is quite an interesting take on the event – the event charges admission. In some ways, this actually makes sense; the rationale goes that if we pay tickets to see a theatre performance or a concert (cultural events), then perhaps we should pay to attend a science festival. The festival also involves ~700 scientific explainer (university students, graduates, young researchers) during the festival. These explainers go through a training called EASE (European Academy for Science Explainers) and are given the tools necessary for communicating with the general public. In fact, through a collaboration, there is now also a EASE program in Shanghai, China.

The festival will be from October 24th to November 2nd this year. In 2015, the festival will be in France in 2015. An exciting time to come – with international exchange, collaborations and contributions!

Canada? It is very interesting to see how science event/outreach/communication leaderships take different shapes in different countries – via government agencies, non-profit organizations, and professional associations. All these reports from groups around the world actually make me a little sad and well, envious.  At the moment there is no government or non-profit organizations to take on that important leadership role to encourage more collaboration and interaction between different science engagement groups within Canada. Even worse, with how things go in Canada, I personally expect negative news about budget cut, muzzling, or elimination of science programs by the Canadian Government almost regularly. The good news is that there are now many more local efforts for science events and festivals (for example, there are now several major science festivals across Canada – Science Rendezvous, Eureka!, Around the Dome in 30 days, Beakerhead, and likely a few more that I missed. The BC Charter of Science was kicked started a few months ago. The future is looking slightly brighter…but we are now years (if not decades) behind and there is much more catching up to do.

How to expand your science outreach program? My slides from #IPSEC2014 conference

5 Mar

I had the opportunity to lead a session with Melissa Beattie Moss from Penn state on expanding outreach programs during the International Public Science Events Conference. I figure that I might as well share my slides and notes here 😀 I do warn you that the presentation is a bit dry only because I tried to cover a lot of the logistics and management stuff that one needs to think about when expanding a science outreach program. If you see anything interesting and would like me to elaborate, feel free to let me know. You can find my personal notes below the slides (only for those that are not self-explanatory). Enjoy!

First few slides: bragging about Vancouver, UBC, and our outreach program.

Slide 10 : First thing I did was to start a e-mail newsletter list. I used MailChimp to manage subscribers, make pretty newsletters, and track what our subscribers are interested in. It will send 12,000 emails to 2,000 subscribers for free. Impact: now have 450+ subscribers, camps get fully registered really quickly, we stop buying ads for paid events, which usually cost us about $1200. There are a few other similar services out there – I just decided that MailChimp fits our needs. Another option I often hear is Emma Inc., although they do charge a fee to start.

Slide 11 : I use survey monkey to collect feedback from activity participants. It is a good way to get qualitative feedback for funding or promotion purposes. Also good to let them know you are listening and looking for ways to improve. If you run your own server or have IT people to help you, you can consider LimeSurvey, which is free and open source.

Slide 12: I actually put together a list of all public event listings in Vancouver. You only need to do it once – can use the list over and over again for different events.

Slide 13: Social media. Won’t elaborate much here because it is another talk perhaps. If you want to tap into social media power, only use the relevant ones that will allow you to connect to your audience. This is only general. There are of course exceptions – ask me if you have questions about this.

Slide 14:  Having an event that you can all work on together is a good way to start a collaborative relationship.

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