Guest Blog By Renee Watson

Whenever I go into schools I start by asking students to draw a picture of “a scientist”. This is partly to see whether perceptions are changing thanks to Nina and the Neurones, the naked scientist et al and partly because I enjoy confirmation that perceptions haven’t changed.

Inevitably I get 20 pictures of middle-aged men in white coats with fuzzy hair and glasses (bald scientists across the world unite!). I should keep a collection of all these little sketches and submit them to the Wellcome trust as an exhibit but with two kids of my own I am already inundated with unrecognisable representations of reality titled “art”.

I am a small, blonde female…I do have glasses! When I tell the students I trained as a scientist they do look at me strangely (not a look I am unfamiliar with) and I can see I have piqued their interest. It seems there is a recipe to follow:
Set the oven to stereotype,
Start with a teaspoon of shock
Add a tablespoon of challenging perceptions, a good dollop of making science fun (preferably organic fair-trade explosions) and as much interaction as you can muster.

Mix together to form a mud or snot like consistency and then kneed with hands until the dough starts to transform into a new realisation. Place in the oven for 30 minutes eat while hot and the effects may last a lifetime.

Oxfordshire Science Festival has been baked largely using this recipe. Unlike other festivals we don’t want people to have to choose to come to us. We plonk the teaspoon of shock and as much science as possible on random places that have nothing to do with science. We try to choose places where people look at you like you’re mad advocating the fun and relevance of science. A council estate, a football stadium, a shopping mall and pubs will be a few of the places the festival will visit in 2010.

We have also started asking people what they think of our ideas before we commit to doing them in the hope that the festival will be eventually be entirely based on what people really want. We would love to hear what you think about our ideas for a giant trebuchet building competition, a science pub crawl, a Formula 1 fling and the Science In Your World fun fair. You can comment on our ideas through Twitter or Facebook or by contacting the festival directly.

It is so difficult to measure the impact of science outreach on interest in and understanding of Science and on long term changes in uptake of science as a career.  I wonder if knowing the impact actually matters. For me, it is like going to the theatre, absolutely loving it, talking about it at the dinner table and with friends even if I didn’t understand all the nuances of the story or get all the jokes. I know I am never going to be an actress but I still feel like theatre is a treasured part of my life, could non-scientists feel like science is a part of theirs?

Renee Watson organised the Science Festival in Oxford. You can view the Oxfordshire Science Festival Opening Day, here on pulse project.



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