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in the past few years i have created and developed a few initiatives in the realm of science communication: a regular newspaper where scientific research can be advertised (more info here), a book of interviews to theoretical physicists about their views on quantum gravity (more info here) and a series of public lectures entitled science_and_cocktails. it is the last one of these which i will now describe in more detail.
more info about science_and_cocktails can be obtained from here.
science_and_cocktails consists of a series of events that include scientific lectures, media art performances and dry ice cocktails. these events take place, at the moment, in byens_lys (a cinema in the heart of christiania in copenhagen) during the night time. its main purpose is to bring scientific awareness to people through several means: lectures on scientific topics and reports of new findings, science inspired art and the applications of science in different areas of expertise, e.g. in the craft of cocktails. the setting is prepared in detail in order to create a relaxed environment easing the process of understanding the information that builds the scientific knowledge: the idea is to make the flow of thoughts as smooth as the flow of a cocktail mixture.
the concept of creating educational spaces outside institutionalized locations is not a new one: in the field of science_communication, lectures during the night time held at a place somewhat resembling a bar go under the category of cafe_scientifique. let me detour for a moment to make another observation. the common practice of the organizer of a cafe_scientifique is the same as that of an organizer of a scientific conference: finding scientists, finding a place, bringing people to it and that's it. cafe_scientifiques are boring places in the same way that scientific conferences are boring and no wonder: they are usually organized by scientists who barely see more than the landscape outside their office window.
the tremendous failure of science_communication initiatives in reaching the public (specially the younger sector) is due to the unawareness of the following similarity: science, and in particular the so called fundamental sciences, is not much different than other forms of art. take the example of realism in painting versus the construction of theoretical structures in physics. realist painters are aided by a visual language when attempting to accurately describe reality while theoretical physicists use mathematics as a language to describe reality. of course in such situation the object of study can be very different: in one case one is dealing with visible pictures to the human eye while in the other one may be describing an invisible world to the human senses. nevertheless both arts are making use of the available languages to describe the world objectively. however there is a catch: in science, in order to approximate a mathematical painting to concrete reality, detectors are constructed in a controlled way, whereas in painting, the detectors are the human eye which can have variations due to variations in biology. the notion of truth in art is not unambiguous as in science, there isn't always a notion of community-based knowledge.
a new definition of art: a person's individual science. a new definition of science: an art with concrete boundaries. common to both is the method: an endeless attempt to describe concepts/ideas/phenomena either subjectively or objectively with increasing accuracy which can either be vouched for individually or collectively.
science_and_cocktails is not (!) a cafe_scientifique: instead it is the staging of a universe of science. a lecturer, for example, is not introduced in the usual way by a real living host. instead, a short movie is screened, consisting of a walkthrough natural phenonema (as if one was being teleported to a different world) and ending with the recording of a live_transmission_from_planet_x31 (see image above). geeky, someone says. not necessarily: in the end the event is real, it is not a sci-fi movie, the lecturer is real. it is not geeky because it is ridiculous, though it has a consequence: it is preparing you for an experience, for entering a world of science which is not common to most. and for this to happen one uses many techniques that range from the science/mathematics-inspired music to the cocktail master's labcoats or the smoky cocktails. after the lecture is over you are still not allowed to go back to reality. there is a performance either using sound, video or weird homemade machines that keep you in the world of science. in the meanwhile you have direct contact to scientists and able to ask them questions while hearing/watching the performance or relaxing at the bar sipping the cocktails. you can find an excellent description of the event by karine blandel here.
advertising science should be less serious, terminology should be reduced to a minimum and analogies with concepts that are known to most people should be maximized. the above is an example of a teaser for a science_and_cocktails event about cloning. scientific knowledge is based on logical structures however effective communication is not based on logical discourse but instead on metaphorical speech. to convey and transmit ideas it is sharper to use metaphors.
you can find more information about science_and_cocktails at the official website.