Going Beyond Show and Tell

Over the course of two evenings in March, 15 graduate students, post docs, and faculty members from across the College of Sciences grappled with the challenge of making their research more accessible to public audiences.

The goal of a two-part workshop led by the Office of Public Science – called “Going Beyond Show-and-Tell” – was for participants to develop hands-on activities that promoted inquiry and conversation with members of the public about their research topics. Through a series of exercises that included improv, drawing and role-playing, participants put themselves into the shoes of non-experts and developed activities they wanted to share with the public.

Workshop participants then implemented their activities with real audiences during two signature NC Science Festival events. They first debuted their activities at the College’s State of the Sciences: Museum Takeover on April 8. Participants then refined, revised and re-deployed their activities to thousands attending the Triangle Sci Tech Expo on April 23.

Lex Kemper, an assistant professor in Physics, participated in the workshop and associated outreach events. “The workshop gave me the opportunity and impetus to think about how my research fits into the world as we experience it every day.”

Kemper, whose research focuses on condensed matter physics, developed an attention-grabbing demo about magnetism. He used magnetic “jumping” rings that he shot far above the heads of visitors to kick-start a conversation about how magnets work and their application in material science.

Reflecting on the experience, Kemper said, “As probably a lot of scientists do, I tend to get stuck in the details of my particular field. Doing outreach that was related to my research forced me to look at it from the outsider’s perspective, which I think was very helpful — not just for outreach, but for teaching as well!  I’m still developing my particular brand of public engagement and outreach, and the whole process helped me shape this further.”