News from the MCAA - Swiss Chapter webinar on communication in science


As Theodota Lagouri (Chair of the Swiss Chapter) already announced in the last Newsletter, the Swiss Chapter organized a series of webinars on Communication in Science, Mental Health, and Science Diplomacy. The first one, in collaboration with the Communication WG, took place on the 18th of April and was divided into two parts: the first part dealt with communicating science through art, presented by Jill Scott (Zurich University of the Arts) and Toni Fröhlich, while in the second part Ruben Riosa (Communication WG) gave a detailed overview on how to engage different audiences and how to write for non-specialists. This webinar discussed a broad range of science communication topics.

Clockwise from top-left corner: Theodota Lagouri, Jill Scott, Ruben Riosa, Toni Fröhlich.

Art meets science

Jill Scott, a well-known artist, in her talk defined ‘creative incubators’ as a space and an environment for growing collaboration between art and science. This is a place where people are more important than disciplines, and art or science are not seen separately. She suggested that these kinds of creative collaborations can be stimulated by ‘lateral thinking:’ a thinking that teaches people how to think about the future of knowledge, and not what to think. Jill mentioned several examples of collaborations from biology, genetics, ecology, to physics which illustrate how researchers can spread science to a much wider audience.

Sometimes art can also touch on critical aspects in science and technology. In this context, Toni spoke about his experience in science-art collaboration. He worked with the New Zealand artist Raewyn Turner for a few years. In their project “Sensing Nanos” (picture below) the impact of inorganic nanoparticles like titanium dioxide on human sensation was discussed.

“Sensing Nanos” by Raewyn Turner & Brian Harris, 2018

Jill pointed out that younger scientists are more interested in communication and in the world around them. Therefore interpreting their science through art would be a very interesting pathway to follow.

Theodota asked how time demanding an art science project is for both the artist and the researcher and Jill’s reply was that it can range from several months to a couple of years. There was also a discussion on what inspires an artist and how an artist can connect with the scientist to interpret the research topic.

The inspiration is usually mutual and the interaction bidirectional, impacting both artist and scientist. Of course failures are part of this procedure as well as great artistic work!

Know your audience

In his first presentation Ruben spoke about how to address different kinds of audience, such as experts, policy makers, the general public and children. Increasing the sense of wonder about scientific discoveries is only one part of science communication. Apart from sharing recent findings and generating excitement for science one has to consider a lot more, such as the audience and the way of communication.

Ruben also talked about specific pros and cons of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or TikTok. Some of their benefits are immediacy, reach and availability, which make it easy to share results with followers and the general public. Care should be taken with the format and content.

Interactions in science communication are very crucial. Jill explained that, children have an attention deficit and are much more able to learn through interactions. Therefore, scientists should engage through interactive exhibits which will encourage the audience to ask more questions and develop their own thinking.

Storyline and turning point

In his second presentation Ruben explained how to develop a good storyline. Different tools can be used to structure your story and to create an exciting narrative. A story usually contains a beginning, a middle and an end. You choose the characters, introduce a conflict and create a turning point which leads to a resolution and finally a conclusion. Never forget asking why, what and who you want to communicate with.

Ruben also focused on writing articles for the MCAA’s blog and newsletter. This is a good starting point to share your personal stories with other members.

Try something new

In the discussion afterwards, Jill encouraged us to look beyond our own horizon. One of her advice was to write a film script and create a movie out of our research. Characters of that movie can be anything, such as microbes in a Petri dish or particles in an accelerator. This might be an interesting challenge for us as scientists.

We learned from Jill that science museums are the next big thing in the art-science collaboration and from Ruben how to communicate our science to the general public and specific audiences like policy stakeholders.

Overall, our webinar was a big success. A lively discussion developed, and we stopped only due to our tight agenda. It is surprising how far science communication and outreach activities can go. Do you want to know more? More info can be found at the MCAA events webpage.

Follow the MCAA Swiss Chapter on Twitter - @mcaa_swiss - and LinkedIn - MCAA Swiss Chapter.

Toni Froehlich

Theodota Lagouri
Chair of the MCAA Swiss Chapter,