Every day, scientists at Diamond change the world. Their work contributes to everything from the fight against cancer to combating climate change; but it’s discussing that work with non-scientists that sometimes proves the real challenge. That’s because conveying the significance of highly complex and multi-faceted research is tricky even for the most adept communicator. So what can be done to bridge the gap between the scientists and the public they serve?
That’s the issue that Diamond’s Hands-On Science Communication Training looks to address. The series of workshops teach scientists who are more used to photon science than public speaking to talk to people about the synchrotron and what they do here. The initial training covers key skills like clear messaging, using props, encouraging conversation, verbal communication and body language. After they’ve mastered the basics, the scientists are thrown in at the deep end, manning an interactive stall at popular science and discovery centre, At-Bristol.
There are numerous organisations and initiatives in the UK who make it their mission to bring science to the public, and At-Bristol is perhaps one of the most successful. Their work is concentrated around the At-Bristol Science Centre, a space made up of exhibits, workshop areas, a planetarium, and a dedicated education suite including laboratories, classrooms and ICT facilities. This proved the perfect venue for Diamond scientists to get their first taste of hands-on public engagement.
Carina Lobley was one of the adventurous volunteers who put herself forward for the training. For Carina, communication is closely linked with her role as a scientist: “I firmly believe that to be a good scientist you have to be able to tell other people about your science. I find all too often that if you say you’re a scientist it’s brushed aside as being a job that others can’t understand; but that bridge can be crossed when a good science communicator conveys the wonder, unpredictability and excitement of science.”
Communicating science to the public is not just a social duty, it’s a practical necessity. The synchrotron is majority funded through the UK government, which means that it belongs, in large part, to the British people. That’s why Diamond endeavours to equip its scientists to share what takes place at the facility. After all, without the scientists and their research, Diamond is just a complicated machine in a futuristic building.
Science communicators are also really important for engaging young people. Diamond has 5000 members of the public pass through its doors each year, many of whom are children and students. For scientists like Carina, this is an opportunity to reach out to the next generation and make science exciting for them: “I think young people are very impressionable, and if they meet people who are good at communicating their love of science then they’re affected by that – in some cases, they too learn to love science.” We need researchers who can talk about their work in a way that is exciting for young people if we want to nurture the next generation of scientists. In that sense, we all depend on the work of science communicators – their work helps to maintain a stream of talented scientists, yielding new advances in science.
The Hands-On Science Communication Training is part of a wider programme of communications and public engagement training at Diamond. Scientists at the synchrotron have access to a variety of modules and workshops that look to help them become ambassadors for science. Our scientists get plenty of opportunities to practice their public engagement: with 6 open days and countless external festivals and exhibitions throughout the year, Diamond is committed to bringing science to the masses.
Work carried out at the synchrotron has already changed millions of people’s lives in myriad ways, and progress continues every day. Part of Diamond’s mission is to deliver benefits to the UK society and economy through world class science; but that’s not all. The synchrotron also looks to engage society and inspire the young. Ultimately, science belongs to the people – so lend our scientists an ear; they might just capture your imagination.