FEATURE

The cultural revolution
Erinma Ochu explores science in a new mix
Most scientists would jump at the chance to appear on TV or radio or in print. However, audiences are adopting new technologies to view and share relevant information through social networks, as and when they want it, wherever they might be and integrating it with other cultural activities (reading, shopping, listening to music, and so on). Consequently, traditional broadcasting is innovating to stay connected to its audiences.1
There is a huge opportunity for socially savvy scientists and science communicators to ride the wave of this technical revolution, because it is also a social one. The public are switching off their TV sets in favour of shared, memorable experiences. Often, if technology is involved, it helps connect organisers, participants and audiences in the run-up to the event. pull, to create music. The public engagement bit - although they’d never call it that! - included several ipad applications (introduced by David Attenborough), games and outreach with young people to explore the ideas behind it. Guerilla Science ‘mixes science with art, music and play’ to create installations, films, live demonstrations, interactive experiments and games at music festivals and arts events. Jen Wong of Guerilla Science recently commented in Wellcome News that ‘music festivals are an amazing place to share science… aiming to embed science into culture, we take researchers out of the lab and into the festivals - places that inspire.’ 3,4 Bright Club is billed as the ‘thinking person’s variety night’ and was dreamed up by Head of Public Engagement at University College London, Steve Cross.5 Bright Club ‘started off as an experiment’ combining comedy, intellectuals and live music in a London pub. The concept has spread by word-ofmouth, facebook and science/ Beacon6 networks to Manchester, Wales, Leeds, Sheffield, Norwich, York, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Cambridge and Bristol. Mathematician Richard Crawford brought Bright Club to Manchester arts café, Nexus, knocking alchohol out of the mix and bringing artists in. Comixed, a Manchester Beacon endeavour, connects artists, academics and the public through conversations about 21st century challenges that are recorded, remixed and replayed through performance and social media in the form of comics, podcasts and films.7

Cross fertilisation
Essentially there is an increasing demand to use science to entertain, create awareness and learn. As the boundaries between professional and non-professional expertise blur, there are abumdant opportunities for cross fertilisation that span the boundaries of traditional organisations, geography and professional practice. Endeavours that infuse scientific practice and scientific knowledge as part of a wider cultural experience present a huge opportunity for the public to just ‘get science’. The value of science to society will be implicitly understood and, from that, wider benefits will inevitably follow. PS. If you are dreaming up such an invention, get in touch!
1 See Sonia Livingstone (2004) The Challenge of Changing Audiences, European Journal of Communication vol. 19 (1) p75-86 2 www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/ 2011/jul/20/bjork-biophilia-app 3 See Jen Wong (July 2011), ‘Appliance of Science’, Wellcome News, p34 4 See guerillascience.co.uk 5 See www.brightclub.org/ 6 See http://publicengagement peopletalk.wordpress.com/ 7 See www.comixed.org.uk

Cultural collisions
Amazing things happen when different cultures collide. Science, like other cultural practices (music, art, literature, comedy, gaming) can help us understand and gain knowledge about the world. Without delving into the differences, values and benefits of one cultural practice over another, I am always curious to see what happens when different practices, disciplines and perspectives collide. Guerilla Science, Bright Club, Comixed and the singer Bjork’s latest nature-inspired album, Biophilia, are examples of how science could be one part of a cultural mix.

Music, artists, conversation
Biophilia ‘celebrates how sound works in nature, exploring the infinite expanse of the universe, from planetary systems to atomic structure’.2 Launched as several intimate live events at the Manchester International Festival, it featured musical instruments, including a pendulum that harnesses the Earth’s gravitational
PAGE 20 PEOPLE&SCIENCE September 2011

Dr Erinma Ochu FRSA is Director of The Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement, writer and Honorary Fellow at The University of Manchester erinma.ochu@manchester.ac.uk
Twitter: @erinmaochu @mcrbeacon www.manchesterbeacon.org

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