FPS-Hosted Sessions at APS March Meeting

Brian Schwartz

[The annual March meeting of the APS was held at the Boston Convention center From February 27-March 2, 2012. In conjunction with the Forum on Education, FPS sponsored a session on "Novel and Proven Methods of Communicating Science to the Public" on Tuesday, February 28, organized by Brian Schwartz of Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of CUNY. The following paragraphs summarize the papers presented during this session. The complete scientific program of the March meeting can be found at meetings.aps.org/Meeting/MAR12/Content/2295 – Ed.]

Creating Catalytic Collaborations between Theater Artists, Scientists, and Research Institutions. In the first talk in this session, Debra Wise, Artistic Director of the Underground Railway Theater (URT; Cambridge, MA: www.centralsquaretheater.org/about_ccmit.html) described the establishment of collaborative programs between MIT and URT, known as the Catalyst Collaborative@MIT. The collaboration is dedicated to creating and presenting plays that deepen the understanding of science while taking advantage of the artistic and emotional experience provided by theatrical presentations. Through performances and conversations with scientists and artists, the collaborative engages the audience about themes in science as related to science and technology in our culture and its impact on our lives.

Using Cartoons to Communicate Science. In this talk, Todd Rosenberg, who founded the eponymous Odd Todd Studios described the science animations he has created for ABC World News, National Public Radio and Time.com. He described his technique of working with scientists and journalists to inform the public about science using animation with humor and scientific accuracy. The two science animations he presented included Can Ants Count? and It’s All About Carbon, a five part series on the role of carbon in global warning that he created for NPR with Robert Krulwich as the moderator.

Drawing at the Speed of Talk: doodling complex discussions in real-time to create animated "Conversation Portraits." The third talk in this session was given by Flash Rosenberg, a freelance photographer and founder of Flash Rosenberg Studio. Rosenberg is also artist-in-residence for LIVE from the New York Public Library, which describes itself as "cognitive theater with a mission to provoke, engage, enlighten, instigate, and agitate the mind". Rosenberg draws discussions in front of live audiences to create real time "Conversation Portraits," five-to-eight minute animations which translate complex ideas into simple lines. She squeezes an hour seminar into a five to eight-minute animation. She illustrated an example of her technique by showing her animation of a talk at the Graduate Center of CUNY by Richard Panek, the author of the book The Four Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality. A number of videos are available on her website.

The New Wave of Science Festivals and their Establishment. In the fourth talk in this session, John Durant, Director of MIT Museum and the Cambridge Science Festival described the newly established Science Festival Alliance. The alliance was created between the San Diego Science Festival and the Cambridge Science Festival. In 2009 the National Science Foundation provided funding for a network and collaboration that would generate the establishment of new festivals and exchanges between festival organizers. The NSF-supported Alliance offers funds for the direct support for the organization of regional science festivals, connects festival organizers and festival partners for the exchange of best practices, organizes national meetings dedicated to the advancement of science festivals, evaluates science festivals, and disseminates the results in order to provide resources for individuals who wish to become connected with and initiate festivals.

Celebrating 24 years of Public Outreach of Science and Engineering in Portland Oregon.. The last talk in this session featured Terry Bristol, President, Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, a Portland, Oregon based public non-profit corporation dedicated to the development of local understanding of issues concerning science, technology and society (www.isepp.org). Bristol described ISEPPs highly successful 24-year outreach program in Portland. The major effort described was the Public Speakers Series, which explores and presents the latest discoveries in our understanding of the universe. The objective of the Series is to establish informed public dialogues and policy networks to improve public understanding of science and technology.

It was heartening to see such a broad-based combination of educational institutions, foundations, theatrical groups and independent artists working to contribute to science literacy in a multitude of formats which physicists would consider non-traditional. More such efforts should be encouraged and supported by the professional scientific community.

These contributions have not been peer-reviewed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not nexcessarily the view of APS.