Interaction with the surrounding society is a “third task” of the universities – complementing teaching and research. One aspect is the communication of science and research. I have enjoyed participating since 1997 in the annual Gothenburg International Science Festival; giving talks in lecture theatres, short presentations in a busy town shopping centre, one-to-one discussions about modern physics in an interrogation style room, organised conferences and other activities for teachers and taking school classes guided tours in amusement parks to discover the physics, math and technology behind the rides. On many occasions the Spiral Rabbit has been a companion, demonstrating forces on the body – or the difference between a helix and its mirror image, connecting to my background in atomic physics, where I was involved in large-scale calculations of atoms, and how even atoms can differ from their mirror images.
Science Centers can be powerful actors for science communication and, in addition to family visits, I have had the privilege to visit all Swedish and many international Science Centres a number of times in a professional role. I have experienced their creativity and effectiveness in developing committed communication that reaches out to various groups.
Over the years I have witnessed subtle changes in answers to questions like
- What is communicated by whom and to what audience – and how can you reach out?
- What is the aim and what is the outcome and how can it be evaluated?
Teachers are important actors in the development of a scientifically literate society. In many aspects of my work – as a PhD student supervisor to teacher-researchers and as director of the Swedish National Resource Centre for Physics Education – I witness how the teachers’ freedom to shape their work seems to shrink every year.
These are some of the experiences that shape my intellectual and emotional involvement with the development of communication, in particular science communication in today’s society.
A few links
Amusement park physics
Personal WWW page at University of Gothenburg (not completely up to date)