December 17, 2015

Dr. G’s #AGU15 Spotlight – Ignite@AGU

Posted by Laura Guertin

Taking place for the fifth year at the AGU Fall Meeting, this unique science communication event titled Ignite@AGU took place at  – where else – the Infusion Lounge, a “sleek, celeb spot with a bustling dance floor features a live DJ, cocktails & Asian-inspired food” (according to Google). Yes, the celebrities were in attendance and performing that night – the science celebrities, that is! The event was first promoted on the AGU Blog The Plainspoken Scientist, and clearly this played a role in recruiting speakers and attendees (it was standing-room only).

The Ignite@AGU website describes this event:

Ignite gives speakers a strict presentation format: five minutes and 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. The rapid-fire pace of this format makes for fun, frenetic delivery and keeps the audience engaged. Ignite presenters span domains and organizations, and range from graduate students to senior-level researchers, science journalists, educators and others. Some talks are about serious science, others are more lighthearted, but all focus on a compelling idea or story. Ignite talks are not your average scientific conference talks — speakers are encouraged to push boundaries and be creative, funny and thought-provoking.

So this format is a little different than a PechaKucha, which is 20 slides with each appearing for 20 seconds (6 minutes and 40 seconds in total). And these talks certainly started different than any other PowerPoint I have ever seen at a conference… the first slide of every presentation was a photo of the speaker from their childhood! This certainly set the tone for a fun session.

The talks ranged from using drones to study flood zones, to how Greenlanders talk about climate change. There were some great one-liners at the event, such as, “58 bar charts will make you hate research,” to more serious take-home messages, like “we don’t want cooking to kill our families or our planet” (this statement came from Ilissa Ocko’s talk on traditional outdoor cooking stoves, which produce 1/4 of the black carbon particles on our planet). I think the best presentation of the night that received the most positive audience feedback was the one that had llama images appearing in each PowerPoint slide – by the way, a LLAMA is a Lake Level Automated Monitoring Algorithm.

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Although this event was only open to AGU Meeting attendees, these types of formats and lighthearted presentations would be a great way to not just communicate science, but to show the general public that scientists can be effective in getting their message across in a short period of time, demonstrate the relevance of their research, and that scientists have a sense of humor! Although this event was scientists presenting to scientists, it would be great to see this format expanded to an even bigger and broader audience. It seems interesting that AGU has students doing “serious” 5-minute Pop-Up talks to practice their presentation skills as a scientist – and the established scientists are practicing their 5-minute talks, but are adding humor to engage the audience.

Tweets from the event can be found on Twitter through the #IgniteAGU hashtag. And be sure to add Ignite@AGU to your schedule for the 2016 meeting – you won’t be disappointed.

The less time people spend on understanding your research, the more time they can actually think about it.  —  quote by Charles J. Ammon, shared by Ignite@AGU presenter Yao Yao

Ignite is sponsored by NASA’s Applied Sciences Program and held in partnership with the ESIP Federation and AGU’s Earth and Space Science Informatics Section.