Back to basics: science communication

Sometimes we don’t focus on the latest cutting edge research, we think about the basics (and we might get a surprise). This is particularly important when we think about Science Communication (what we also call Outreach or Public Engagement).

I supervise an Outreach Materials module, and recently paid a visit to Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham with students from the Advanced Metallic Systems Centre for Doctoral Training and Materials Science and Engineering (Research) degree. These students have been given the task of designing, delivering and evaluating their own outreach activities, and we took them to Magna as part of their research into how things can be done.

Magna is a really interesting place; at the turn of the 1990s (when I was thinking about what subjects I might like to take at GCSE, and so would have been at one of the ages we would want to promote careers in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Medicine – to) it was a steelworks with a long history, but the economics of the time meant that this was no longer viable. Rather than levelling the site for more retail parks or entertainment complexes, the decision was made to keep much of the plant and buildings and to convert them into a science centre, serving both as a museum for the steelmaking history of the area and as an opportunity for children and families (and university students and academics as we found) to get hands-on with demonstrations.

While we were there we also had an opportunity for a public engagement masterclass with Stuart Ballard, Magna’s Education Manager. He showed us a range of different demonstrations to illustrate different things to think about when designing something to do, from quite dramatic fire tornados and indoor rockets to a demonstration of how diseases like cholera spread in a population (I didn’t survive). I think we will all remember something from the session, but for me it was interesting to see how none of the demos used anything very expensive, or were that difficult to do, but pretty much all of them made you think.

Hopefully, some of the outreach projects can be delivered or hosted a Magna over the coming year; I’m very excited to see what the students come up with!

Russell Goodall
Undergraduate Admissions Tutor and Senior Lecturer

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