Friday, 12 April 2013

Sounds of Science

Thanks to the BES Roadies for organising such a brilliant workshop earlier this week run by Science Made Simple (SMS).  We were greeted at Charles Darwin House, London by an eager and excited group of people laying out props which kept us guessing for a good twenty minutes- a washing up bowl, some glycerine, a tube with a plastic glove on the end, a slinky and a polystyrene cup… what on earth had we let ourselves in for? I had just started to worry about being made to ‘perform’ in front of a group of strangers without any caffeine to help me, when David and James from SMS immediately made me feel at ease.

They reassured us that over 75% of the general public were interested in science and trusted scientists almost as much as doctors and clergymen! So we already had a captive audience - they were going to teach us how to tap into it.  The morning kicked off with a ‘speed dating’ exercise.  Here I found out that I had shared interests with most of the people there including my love of real ale, cycling, knitting and being hungover in a boat early in the morning with someone shouting at me. 

What happens when you sit on a balloon?
We soon progressed into small groups and picking some random object out of a bag (and when I say random, I really DO mean random). The aim of this exercise was trying to sell said item, in its original role or not, in a 1-minute advert.  My group rest-assured, managed to market a rather phallic looking orange juicer as a double sided, ahem, pleasure-maker… Other groups were not so filthy but managed to come up with inventive and creative ways to sell e.g. a star on a stick as a sleep inducer, a spiky ball as a productivity enhancer, a fried egg maker as a posh coffee holder, and a rubber glove as an exfoliator.  These performances were all filmed (unfortunately for us) so we could watch and cringe at them later. 

Gingerly sitting down...
...on the world's second largest whoopee cushion
After some excellent tea and biscuits, David went on to introduce us to his street busking science tricks.  There followed the rest of a very active day involving sitting on balloons (bum gets hot), amplifying what a slinky really sounds like when it bounces using a polystyrene cup (like space!), and my personal favourite, sitting on an enormous whoopee cushion to demonstrate how sound is created by vibrations.  We then applied all these inspirational and novel techniques to our own ideas about how to make ecology come to life for people of all ages.  The day finished off with a bit of a brainstorming session between the groups with some potentially brilliant ideas emerging, e.g. people on stilts, a food web/-chain made out of people, an assassins game based on a food web, an ecosystem chair, an insect sorting hat, fungi smells and a bee waggle dance.  The next step is to set out the logistics of these ideas and make them happen!

I learnt a lot from the day such as making as much eye contact with your audience as possible, smiling constantly and open body language.  It also helped to know how simple busks could be whilst remaining fun, effective and memorable.  So here’s to a hopefully hilarious summer with the BES roadies and a little prayer for sunshine!
Testing a few busks

Kate Salmon, 8 April 2013

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