This week has been a bumper week in London for science public engagement events. I’ve been fortunate to go to two of them: Twilight Science as part of the Summer Science Exhibition at The Royal Society, and Wrong! at Wellcome Collection. Two public-facing science events done in different ways.
Twilight Science was an evening opening of the annual Summer Science with real labs exhibiting their work as well as a few scheduled talks. Some of the exhibitions were truly incredible – in particular the Biology Builders showed the advancement of 3D printing for use in medicine. I was impressed at their display, the technology available (including a live link to their lab in Nottingham) and the enthusiasm shown by the scientists. I spoke to the lab head who, even though lab heads often are busy and worn out by applications for funding, was just as keen to engage with visitors as his PhD students. His pitch was just right between explaining the basics of the work and demonstrating its complexity and it was extremely interesting to hear how they are taking lessons learned from developmental biology into medical research. Virus Wars was great too, though I did know one of the scientists on the stand… Again the potential for advancements in medicine here really was amazing and exciting and really summed up how important and valuable it is to communicate front line science.
I also attended The Festival of the Spoken Nerd talk during the evening. Unfortunately, the capacity crowd seemed a bit flat, and to be honest, I was slightly disappointed with the talk after hearing raving reviews of previous shows from friends. However, the Mystery of Magenta section was a great experiment and with the demonstration and explanation of ink blot images by Simon Watt, spiked my interest and wonder at the world of the brain and perception – more on that later.
All in all I thought it was a fun evening and a very valuable exhibition of contemporary science. It was a great way for people without research or science backgrounds were able to find out more about today’s research. I just wish I had more time to speak to more of the scientists!
Wrong! on Friday evening was more like Science Museum Lates in format. A themed evening on ‘wrongness’ with both spontaneous and scheduled events.
After seeing the Mystery of Magenta by FOTSA I was very keen to find out more about how our body makes mistakes/filters out irrelevant information, and I wasn’t disappointed. The Psychology of Magic was the first talk and, though some of the demonstrations were ones I have seen before, Dr Kuhn, a real magician and scientist, gave the talk an interactive and unique element that brought the key concepts of human perception to life.
The informal events included games such as Opposite Pictionary and demonstrations on Body Illusions, where you could participate in experiments to fool your body into thinking your own limbs were not where you thought they should be. I played a game to find out which medical theories of the past and present have been proven wrong over time with a few fictional theories thrown in to confuse – left and right ovaries producing eggs of one sex was one disproved theory, but I was fooled by the real psychological phenomenon in some east Asians of their feeling of retracting genitals.
Wrong! was more surface level science than Summer Science but benefitted from the fun and interactive element for a Friday evening. It’s amazing how wrong you can be about the world around you without knowing!
I’m certainly going to look more into the wonderful world of human (and animal) perception thanks to both of these events, so I think they both succeeded in communicating science and encouraging interest in a new area of science.