Getting Inspired About Amazing Science

A trip to a week-long conference in Boston has your faithful Fermilab blogger excited about the possibilities of science.

I am writing this from the lovely Hynes Convention Center in downtown Boston. I’m here attending the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference, which means I’m in the company of thousands of very smart people talking about the thing they love most.

Of course, I’m referring to the awe and wonder of science, and how to communicate that awe and wonder to people who would not normally go to a conference like this. The sessions I’ve attended so far have been evenly divided between excited scientists explaining wondrous concepts, and science communicators trying to figure out new ways to get the word out.

I’ve gotten a lot out of both of these kinds of presentations. In the first one I attended, Chris Joyce of NPR said something that truly resonated with me: “There is no concept too complex for people to understand, there’s just language that is too complex.”

In a lot of ways, I’m the target audience for good science communication. I’m interested in these grand ideas, and the amazing ways we discover things about our universe, but equations leave me cold. I need simple yet powerful language to grasp these things. For instance, Mark Vagins of the Kavli Institute in Tokyo just told me that every element found in nature, every element of life, was initially formed in the heart of dead, exploding stars.

“We are made of stardust, all of us,” he said. That’s lovely.

I’m here to network with people and learn some things, but I’m also here to get inspired about science, and about communicating it. Fermilab has a lot of fascinating projects in the works, ones that make my eyes widen and my jaw drop. Already at this session I’ve heard a bunch of ideas that will help me talk about those projects, and hopefully make your eyes widen and your jaw drop.

We’re always trying to think of new ideas here at Fermilab. Just this week, we put out two videos that show different sides of our lab. I told you about our 40-minute documentary last week, and it’s been received very well — we’re over 4,800 views, and stories keep coming out in the media.

On the flip side, we made our contribution to the Harlem Shake meme — a bunch of crazy Fermilab folks filmed this in our Remote Operations Center, where we analyze data coming off of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. (Those are CERN scientists dancing via video link on the laptop at the right.) This video’s racking up the views, and while it’s not necessarily communicating science, it’s a gateway — it gets our name out there to people who may never have heard of Fermilab, or what we do.

We’re trying to engage with our community, and while that definitely includes you, our neighbors, it also includes the world at large. It’s easy to get bogged down in numbers and acronyms working in this field, but that’s not the story we should be telling. It’s more vast and more amazing than that. We’re trying to come up with the big answers about how we all got here, why we exist, and what the universe is really made of. We’re building huge machines to look at very small things, and figure out how everything came to be, and why.

See? Inspiring. Let’s keep this conversation (and this excitement) going.  

Andre Salles is the media and community relations specialist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He can be reached by calling 630-840-6733 or emailing asalles@fnal.gov.

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Scott Hamlin February 22, 2013 at 06:01 AM
Inspiring? Seeing my tax dollars wasted on a Fermi boon doogle trip to Boston? I thought they had plans to start turning Fermi into a big water park. Must be next year.
mike ellison February 22, 2013 at 06:43 AM
Fermi is trying to stay relevant after CERN was built. They'll tell you that they collaborate, which they do, but it's nothing more than an attempt to stay relevant and for people to keep their jobs. Fermilab and NASA have both moved almost entirely into religious aspects in their science ie- creation, big-bang, how did we get here, etc. That has become more important than pure science and has trampled on taxpayers who are religious and have differing beliefts, that, by-the-way, are actually supported by science. Fermi has had yearly get togethers in Aspen each year in order to plan the science activities for the upcoming year. You'd think a multi-billion dollar facility would be enough for them, yet they have to travel to one of the most expensive places in the US in order to conduct business.


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