1 June 2020

Getting our message across with Water Pistols and a little bit of Poetry!!

Posted by Shane Hanlon

The scaled-down WireWall rig. Credit: Jill Burgess

By Jill Burgess

As scientists we are all beginning to understand the importance of communicating our work to a wider audience than just our peers. Engaging the public helps us to dispel myths, create interest, educate and hopefully inspire the next generation of scientists. It’s also really good fun and adds a little variety to your work. So now I could be sitting at my desk one day and the next stood in front of large crowd brandishing water pistols and waving Lego figures at them. 

Interaction has been the most important part of our engagement activities. Allowing people to get stuck in and see how the concept works is invaluable. In this instance by using a scaled down version of our WireWall rig and making it fun with water pistols and Lego has ensured that at events we’ve been inundated with interested participants from all ages and walks of life. Any barriers or misconceptions about stuffy science have been squashed and we found that conversation flowed more easily and questions came in abundance. We have, in effect, become more approachable but also got soaked on a number of occasions.

It is really worth taking a chance on something different as you will reach new audiences, expand your skills and maybe, just maybe, reprogram our science-y heads to see things in a whole new way. This is exactly what we did when the opportunity to work with a local poet came along and, with a little help from an AGU100 grant, we set up a narrated coastal walk along our WireWall study site with poems available for download at six locations. Well I can tell you that it was steep learning curve for all involved but  it’s been really good fun to approach a project in a different way and we think the results are fab.

As you can see we’ve had quite a busy time this year but it has been so much fun. I would encourage all scientists not to be shy, give it a go and really don’t be afraid to make people laugh.  Step out of your comfort zone. Remember that generally people are interested in what we do but science terminology can be intimidating and a little overwhelming – use everyday language. Getting your ideas across and stimulating interest are more important than jargon or impressive words. The odd Lego figure helps too.

– Jill Burgess, National Oceanography Centre Liverpool. Having lots of fun with Science and Public Engagement.