So this weekend I’ve been demonstrating at the LOFAR exhibit at Intech in Winchester in celebration of World Space Week. Outreach is one of the most fun activities you can do as a scientist because you get the opportunity to talk to people about science and enthuse them about something. I think of it as the acid test to being a good scientist; if you can make someone enthusiastic about what you’re demonstrating (even if you find it unexciting yourself), you’ve got the right attitude.
Though having said that you might find it unexciting, often learning more about it and talking about the reasons it’s important makes you understand why you should be interested in it. For example let’s take LOFAR. The person who assigned me to the job told me I’d be talking about “a bunch of sticks in a field”, and I wasn’t that impressed. However, having experiments to demonstrate the concepts with (sending messages with light for instance – like in optical fibres) and finding a way to lead on to this massive, earth shattering new way to make a telescope makes it infinitely more interesting. LOFAR stops becoming “a bunch of sticks in a field” and becomes this amazing idea for looking at things we can’t directly see, and better than ever for cheaper! Then you can go on to talk about other applications of the system – monitoring microclimates, seismic sensors, infra-sound etc.
But for me it’s not just a test of my communication ability; it’s an opportunity to go out and break the sorry stereotype of a Physicist. You know; we’re all boring old men in boring smoking jackets who talk about boring esoteric mathematics and who use boring long words to talk about boring concepts and boring laws, and that’s all we think about all boring day. I think this link (from 7 minutes in) sums it up perfectly; it makes me happy to talk to someone and completely change their minds about who scientists are and what we do.
And you know the best bit? We get to show kids cool sciency stuff, we get to make them think and get an idea for the awesome things we do in science. We get to inspire them.
That’s why we do outreach like this 🙂