Making cutting-edge science accessible to the public
How to demonstrate why funding frontier research matters and how it improves our lives? An EU-funded project is taking up the challenge using multimedia campaigns to highlight research on cities, food, longevity, sensory experiences, music and artificial intelligence.
© ra2 studio, #99677398, 2019. source: stock.adobe.com
Cutting-edge science can capture the imagination, change the world and stimulate curiosity. The search for the Higgs boson and its discovery by CERN is one example. However, other fundamental and potentially ground-breaking research is relatively unknown. Stories about such frontier science can inform and inspire, and encourage young people to become tomorrow’s researchers.
The EU-funded ERC = SCIENCESQUARED project took up the challenge of communicating the achievements of frontier research funded by the EU’s European Research Council, developing a wide range of tools to take science out of the laboratory and into public spaces.
Across many countries in Europe, citizens discovered, in their language, how 'cool' science is through story-telling, workshops and hands-on activities in science and natural history museums, shopping centres and at science festivals, science-cafés with researchers in university campuses and other public places.
Activities focus on a specific theme that changes every six months. So far, SCIENCESQUARED has explored subjects as diverse as cities, food, longevity and sensory experience. A campaign based on the music theme started in April 2018 and artificial intelligence has taken off in October 2018.
To date, the project has organised events in different European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain and the UK.
Matching medium and message
Different approaches are used in each of the project’s themed multimedia campaigns. For example, the project organised tasting sessions and simple experiments to help explain advances in food science.
As part of the sensory experience campaign, visitors could try a bracelet that let them control their phone, computer, etc., touch-free.
‘We are now in music, so we are linking the campaign with concerts,’ explains Natalia Grzomba of Science Business Publishing Belgium, project coordinator. ‘A lot of the researchers who work in music are musicians themselves, so we are getting them to come to our events and play. Concert performances incorporate demonstrations of the latest advances in machine learning and the study of human physiology in musical performance.’
Events in science museums within the ECSITE network, one of the project's partners, attract a large number of visitors, especially younger ones who can engage with the latest scientific discoveries through FabLab activities.
For the next theme artificial intelligence researchers will showcase the latest developments in software and robotics.
The project has also created a pop-up stand that has travelled to eight European countries, a website with interactive articles, a YouTube channel, a popular Twitter account, and a range of printed materials, such as posters and postcards, which have been translated into Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, French, German, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovenian. The interactive articles include animations and cartoons that make frontier research easily accessible to a wide audience, young and old alike.
Among other activities, the project is organising science communication training sessions for ERC grantees, to help them explain their work to the general public.
A handy social media kit has also been distributed to researchers to help them develop their presence on social media to reach and engage with new audiences.
All the themed packages will be used beyond the end of the project in March 2019 to inspire public interest in science, show how it benefits society, and build broader support for funding breakthrough science.