Curiosity Live at Glasgow Science Centre
Do you think you could explain your research to members of the public? That’s exactly the idea behind “Curiosity Live”, a new event at the Glasgow Science Centre aimed at bringing STEAM professionals – that’s science, technology, engineering, arts (social science) and maths – into the spotlight.
I was lucky enough to be involved in the first Curiosity Live event on the 15th-17th June. For the event, I had to prepare an activity targeted at all age groups about the research that my group do. For my PhD, I study wild birds and biological rhythms, so I brought along some birdy things including a nest box with a nest inside, a slideshow of cute bird photos from our fieldwork, and a cuddly toy of my study species. When doing table-top public engagement activities, it is a good idea to have something eye catching to entice people over!
To explain my research, I designed a simple activity that involved people choosing which activities we do in our modern-day lives have negative influence on the rhythms of our biological clocks. For example, exposure to light at night via mobile phones and screens has been shown to suppress release of the hormone melatonin, which is involved in making you feel sleepy in the late evening. Most people understood that being exposed to screens at night negatively affects your biological clock. However, people were surprised to hear that eating at night can disrupt your natural rhythms by putting your digestive system out of sync!
During my weekend at the Science Centre, I got to take a sneaky peek at the Curiosity Live stalls of other STEAM professionals. Stalls had a range of high and low-tech activities, from moulding plasticine organs to learn about stress, to building your own balanced bridge to learn about civil engineering (which is much harder than it seems…). I really liked the variety of research that was on display at Curiosity Live – in the same afternoon I learned about gravitational waves from members of the University of Glasgow Gravitational Research, about a charity that 3D prints prosthetics for children in Scotland, and the research behind high-speed pod travel inspired by Elon Musk.
As a PhD researcher, it was really cool to see how other STEAM professionals (because we PGRs are professionals!) communicate their research. It can be a real challenge to break down research into digestible chunks of information, but I believe it is a worthwhile skill to learn. Over the course of my PhD I have taken part in a range of public engagement activities, and I believe that practising explaining my research to the public has helped me to understand the basics of my research. I also think that as a result of doing public engagement, I am more confident in both talking and writing about my research in an academic setting.
While giving a conference talk, it is often said that the questions are the most useful part. The same is true while doing public engagement - at Curiosity Live I was presented with new and interesting questions and angles about my work that I hadn’t yet considered!
It was great to be a part of such a vibrant atmosphere in the Glasgow Science Centre and getting to meet researchers from all areas of STEAM. I also appreciated the extra challenge of talking about research, and my clocks activity on camera during the Facebook Live broadcast on the Science Centre page! The next Curiosity Live event at the Glasgow Science Centre runs from 9th-11th November, so if you would like to get involved, contact Sam Langford.