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Science Champions

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  • season 1, episode 9: fascination & fun with science

    Episode 9: Fascination & Fun with Science

    Science is fascinating and fun when you're doing hands-on activities at a science museum. How can we transfer some of that joy to the classroom? Or the lab? Our guests explore how to make science more appealing to kids and adults.

    Listen to our Champions of Science on Apple Podcasts Listen to our Champions of Science on Stitcher Listen to our Champions of Science on Google Play


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Featured Guest

  • Laurie Fink - Vice President of Science, Science Museum of Minnesota

    Laurie Fink

    Laurie Fink is the Vice President of Science at the Science Museum of Minnesota, tasked with making science fun and interactive. She has a PhD in Pharmacology from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.

    LinkedIn | Twitter

  • Pat Hamilton - Director of Global Change Initiatives, Science Museum of Minnesota

    Patrick Hamilton

    Patrick Hamilton is the Director of Global Change Initiatives at the Science Museum of Minnesota, dedicated to enhancing the quality of human life and preserving the environment through science.

    LinkedIn | Twitter

We want to engage people, start conversations and show that science is fun, science is good and it's a part of our everyday life. @laurieakfink #ScienceChampions #CelebrateScience
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Both adults and children are fascinated by science. Children are more ready to give in to their fascination. When they see something that intrigues them, they rush over and engage. @patrickhamilto2 #ScienceChampions #CelebrateScience
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Read Full Episode Transcript

  • Science Champions - Fascination & Fun with Science

    Jayshree Seth:
    87% of people say they’re “fascinated” by science...but 56% said they felt more excited about science as a kid than they do now. How can we turn fascination into a lifelong pursuit of science? We’ll ask the experts on this episode of Science Champions.

    Welcome to Science Champions. I’m your host, Jayshree Seth, Chief Science Advocate at 3M.

    If you have ever been to a science museum, you know just how fascinating it can be. There are hands-on exhibits that let you play with light, color, and sound. Our local science museum does a wonderful job of making science learning into a joyful voyage of discovery.

    Of course, very few adults would describe their high school science classes as fascinating or joyful. Most of the adults we surveyed don’t know a lot about science at all. Interestingly enough, though, most said they hoped their children would learn more than they did.

    So our challenges are two-fold. First, we need to make science more accessible to adults. We need to show them that they can learn more, and that it’s rewarding to do so. Second, we need to build a bridge between the hands-on excitement of the science museum and the often too sterile environment of the classroom.

    To explore these issues, I’ve invited two guests who have decades of experience in making science accessible and fun: Laurie Fink and Patrick Hamilton. Welcome, Laurie and Patrick. Please tell us about your background and what you do.

    Patrick Hamilton:
    My name is Patrick Hamilton and I'm the director of Global Change Initiatives at the Science Museum. what that means is I develop internal projects for the museum. And in recent years, they have focused a lot on energy, water and climate change. My academic background is in geography specifically, physical geography. My advanced degree was in Water Resources and climatology in particular which is why I’ve continued those interests here at the Science Museum.

    Laurie Fink:
    I'm Laurie Fink. I'm the vice president of science here at the Science Museum. That means that I lead the division that does the research and holds the collections of the museum. I often say that our division is the best kept secret here at the Museum and it's my goal to make sure it's not a secret anymore. We do some great work. We have some amazing objects and the more we can bring that out to the public, the better. My educational background is I have a PhD in pharmacology. I like to say that I used to research just one little gene and trying to figure out what that one gene is and then now I get to look at science on the broadest of scales and I think that that's great.

    Jayshree Seth:
    On previous podcasts, we have definitely talked about hte public relations aspect of science. Do you think that’s an important aspect of the work you do?

    Laurie Fink:
    Absolutely! In fact, I was just telling some of our scientists yesterday that even though outreach is not one of the easiest things for scientists to do, it is so important. If people don't understand why we do science, how we do science and how we come to the conclusions that we come to, then the general public will not support science and then we will not have funding for science anymore. So, it has to be integral to everything that we do.

    Jayshree Seth:
    Based on what you’ve seen, do you think children are more fascinated by science than adults? Do you think they’re easier to reach?

    Patrick Hamilton:
    Actually, I think both adults and children are fascinated by science. I think the difference that I see when I walk around the exhibit floor is that children are more ready to give in to their fascination. When they see something that intrigues them, they rush over and engage. And adults tend to be a little more slower in their response to something that they see that intrigues them. Children jump in and adults tend to wade in.

    Laurie Fink:
    I think that that's true. I was getting my hair cut and at the chair next to me there was a mom and a daughter. The daughter was getting ready to go on a trip to Costa Rica with her biology class and she was talking about the leaf cutter ants that she was going to be studying. Normally you would expect that, okay! That's where the conversation kind of ended. You described it. But the mom and the person who was cutting her hair both got so excited and were asking this high school student all of these questions and it was just another example. I think kids quickly gravitate towards that curiosity and adults are a little more reserved, but I think people are equally as excited about it. We as the science museum need to encourage that in different ways. I think that the social science program that we now do which is a 21+ event here at the Museum is a really great example of trying to foster that curiosity in adults. When you come here as a family, especially as a parent, it's a natural instinct to step back and let your kids do the thing and you just watch. When we close down the museum and have no kids here and just people who are 21+ here, it's a whole new environment and you see adults engaging and playing with the exhibits in the same way that naturally I would see kids doing it.

    Jayshree Seth:
    What type of exhibit do people find most compelling? Can you give us a few examples?

    Laurie Fink:
    Well, I would say anything hands-on is going to engage somebody. People like doing things and we learn by doing. You see very few museum visitors who are going to read labels. So, that being said, well we have several areas in the museum that you can do that from the cell lab where people can sit down and actually do biology activities using equipment just like scientists use in the lab and using techniques scientists use in the lab, that's one way to get people engaged and hooked. We have to keep things relevant as well. So, if I think about the exhibit that we have, we move, and we stay which is all about Dakota and Ojibwe people, who have called Minnesota home much longer than many of us. We use both objects that engage people and then interactivity that relate to those objects. So, for example, you can see a star quilt that was made maybe 20 years ago, you can see a birch bark star quilt that was recently made and then you have an opportunity to play with some geometric blocks that mimic that same geometry of both of the other star quilts and you can play with your own patterns in that way. I think by having these different entry points for people to learn about the science in that way is one of the best ways to do it.

    Patrick Hamilton:
    Another idea that comes to mind is that we have a lot of emphasis on developing exhibit components that allow people to manipulate the variables and the conditions and then rerun basically the experiment and that allows people to actually spend quite a bit of time at a component because they're in control of the other situation. An example that immediately comes to mind is a new exhibit that we just put out on the floor just a few weeks ago. We call it the Automated Reality Sandbox. It's a big box full of white sand with a projector in a computer overhead and as you move the sand around, the computer is instantaneously recalculating a color relief map of the topography. So, you can shape mountains, islands, lakes and see it in real time. I have seen kids spend a long time at that sandbox and then pull parents or grandparents over to see what they're doing. I've actually seen an example where the grandparents said, let's go off and see something else! And then a few minutes later, the kid was back at the sandbox digging through it again.

    Jayshree Seth:
    So it’s making the experiment tangible, really giving them something they can get their hands on?

    Laurie Fink:
    I think so. I mean whether its measuring salt content in water or... It's kind of an old story but I'd love to tell it. The cell lab opened, when we opened this building in December of 99 and it's been a hit right away. There was a girl who they remember, she came multiple times and did every single bench in the cell lab. Then one year during Christmas break, she came running down the stairs ready to go into the cell lab and pulled out of her bag a lab coats she had just received for Christmas and was so excited to redo all of the benches she had done before in her own lab coat because it was her favorite place in the museum. I just think that we need to create those connections in those moments for whether they're kids or adults and everybody does it in a different way. The topic might be how water flows id landforms like the Augmented Reality Sandbox. It might be the lab, or it might be more anthropology like that we move and we stay, exhibit or we have comas of others with engineering and more the physical sciences. So, we have all of these topics and people engage in different ways but it's that hands-on how can I do that? Is it touching the fossil next to the Triceratops or you know what is it that that engages somebody but it's definitely the hands-on. Well and that's exactly what we want to do is to engage people and to start those conversations and to have those emotional memories that science is fun, science is good and it's a part of our everyday life.

    Jayshree Seth:
    What makes an exhibit most successful at communicating scientific principles?

    Patrick Hamilton:
    Well, I think that exhibits actually aren't about a physical phenomenon but actually embody it that allow people to actually engage with light or sound or motion and actually do the kinds of hands-on Interactives that actually allow them to observe real physical phenomenon. And I think a fun example of that, it was quite a few years ago now that we produced a traveling exhibit called playing with time which allowed people to either slow down or speed up time because there's all kinds of phenomenon that happen at speeds that are either too slow for us to perceive or happen too fast. But we basically sort of greatly widened the window of people's eyes in order for them to be able to see things that otherwise were imperceptible. I think people really enjoyed that way of being able to see something that happens in a microsecond, happen over a period of time, like seeing a bullet go through an apple or see something that takes months or years to manifest itself be able to see that in a few seconds. So, it's a real phenomenon presented in a way that that people can actually apprehend them.

    Laurie Fink:
    Yeah. I agree. I was going to say examples from our experiment gallery. So, things like the string where you can see the sound wave, or the light exhibits or even we have a math exhibit and you can look at ratios and proportions kind of in real time or you can move like the graph is then moving on the screen. So, it's really putting your whole self into something that it's the basic scientific principles.

    Jayshree Seth:
    How can we bridge popular science and hard science — that is, taking the interest that gets people sharing science memes on Facebook and turning it into a pursuit of knowledge?

    Laurie Fink:
    It's making it relevant. I'm mean they are as the cute memes but what is it that makes that cellphone work or what are the scientific advances that allowed you to have that? Everything from the science that goes into cooking or I mean there's some really tangible, more hard science in just about everything we do. Eye glasses, I mean think about all the scientific discoveries that went into having that. It's the engineering, it's the problem-solving and it's the curiosity. So, I think that if you only look at it as the hard science in peer-reviewed journal, most people are never going to pick up a peer-reviewed journal and that's okay. But as scientists, we need to make the contents of that relevant to everyday life.

    Patrick Hamilton:
    I think that the science that we're talking about is directly relevant to people's lives and that the science that we encourage them to explore is in their best interest. When we embrace ignorance, everyone loses. So, I think that we need people to be able to embrace science because their health, their wealth, their overall well-being is dependent on it. So, I get several peer-reviewed journals a month to read. Frankly, the articles that I actually read in those peer-reviewed generals are the distillation of the peer-reviewed articles that are then published in the same periodical but basically written for a much larger audience than just a specific scientist who are writing peer-reviewed journals for other scientists.

    Laurie Fink:
    I also have to think about it. Well, so Pat does a lot of stuff about climate change and resiliency and what we need to do, and for example, he's doing this next month, bring together people to talk about these serious topics but in really fun relevant ways. Pat, you can probably describe this better than I, but he's inviting people from St. Paul to come in and talk about what is the city of St. Paul doing or what should the policymakers in St. Paul be doing to make sure that the city is resilient to extreme rainfall and extreme heat because those are going to be things that we will be grappling with soon. If we don't start addressing it now and have a plan, we're going to be in trouble. This is totally based in science but it's touching us in a real way. I don't know if you want to add to that.

    Patrick Hamilton:
    Sure. We're giving people an opportunity to hear more about what climate change is already manifest itself here in St. Paul. And then have the state climatologist talk about not only with the changes that have already appeared in the city but the ones that I think are highly likely in the next 10 to 20 years but then what do we do with that information is something that is very much in the public realm. So, here's the scientific information but based on what you've just seen and heard what are your reactions to it? What do you think about personally when you hear that information about your own resilience? And how do you think the city as a whole should react to that information? Because I think every community is probably going to think about the science differently but what we want to have happen is not the science be ignored but that the science be embedded in the conversations about how communities respond.

    Laurie Fink:
    Like a case study. So, then they debate and talk about the case today. So, we have X number of dollars. Here's our problem. How are we going to solve that given the knowledge that we have about this situation?

    Jayshree Seth:
    What channels and methods can scientists use to communicate with the public? How does the Science Museum get the word out?

    Laurie Fink:
    Well, that's still a work in progress. I now have a Twitter account and I keep saying I'm going to start a personal blog or podcast and I have not done either of those things. I am encouraging our scientists to find opportunities to get out into the public and talk. I haven't cracked that yet. I know it's really important. You know I try to accept any time someone asks me to come and speak to graduate students. You know when my kids were in elementary school, I always volunteered with the teachers if you need a scientist to come in and talk, I am happy to do that. I think that that's our duty to do that. At the Museum, we have this opportunity with different programs and exhibits. So, yesterday we were talking about how our museum scientists can even connect with the museum instructors, and the museum exhibit developers and the program developers so that we may not personally be out there but that they are informed by the work that we're doing when they're developing those things.

    Jayshree Seth:
    Are most of the people you work with eager to help communicate, or is there some hesitation there?

    Laurie Fink:
    Many scientists are frustrated by the lack of understanding from the public or even disregard for science by some people. So, I keep encouraging people even if you're frustrated, we need to kind of push past that and still do that. I think that at the museum we are really fortunate that we have all of these experts in science communication here. We've done a lot of talking about and we're starting to prototype and play with the idea of how can the museum take the role of training scientists to be better communicators? This fall, we'll be playing with that a little bit. I'm hoping that more scientists will start then coming to us so that we can not only help them be better communicators but then give them a forum to practice doing that because you've got the public here.

    Jayshree Seth:
    Finally, just for fun: There are only a handful of really popular “celebrity scientists” - people like Bill Nye, the late Stephen Hawking, of course Neil Degrasse Tyson. Who are some up-and-coming scientists you think should get more recognition?

    Pat Hamilton:
    Well I have a couple of thoughts. They are not often coming there. They are very well-established scientists, but I think they deserve even greater visibility. One is a Ben Sinter. He's a climatologist at the Lawrence Livermore Lab in California and he is just one of the world's most top-notch climate scientists, really doing cutting-edge research on the attribution of climate change that is how do we actually detect climate change amongst all the noise of the day-to-day variation in weather. And then another name that comes to mind is Richard Alley and he's glaciologist at Pennsylvania State University. He studies the Cryosphere, you know the frozen parts of the earth, the ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and glaciers around the world. He has been very significant in helping to understand the feedbacks between ice and climate change and how they can reinforce one another, how the loss of sea ice makes climate change accelerate in the high latitudes and both of them also are excellent communicators. I think they feel very strongly about communicating their science messages because they're the ones that are looking through the binoculars metaphorically about what is coming at us in the coming years and decades if we don't transition away from putting huge amounts of carbon in the atmosphere. They know with high confidence what kinds of pain we're setting ourselves up for. So, I encourage people to listen to what they had to say because I think they have devoted their lives basically turning the headlights on the car, so we can see as far ahead as possible. So, we can avoid the ditches.

    Laurie Fink:
    Well, I when I saw your question and was angry at myself for not coming up with a name right away. I started doing just some Google searches to see if I could say, oh yeah! I like that person. I was intrigued and shocked that all the different like top 10 scientists lists that I found or even there's a Twitter top 50 scientists, how few women were listed in all of those. I thought there are so many great women scientists doing great research and many of them I don't even know or know of and how it disappointed I was of that. So, I'm going to start paying more attention because of that question that you asked.

    Jayshree Seth:
    That’s definitely a concern that I’ve had, too. And it’s come up in some of our previous episdes as well — this challenge of promoting women in science, capturing the imagination of girls who will become the next generation of scientists. How do you think we can meet that challenge?

    Laurie Fink:
    Well, you know, on Saturday, we're having the women in science and engineering event here at the Museum. Our archaeologists who are just across the hall from here; there are four women who work in that lab, they are all coming in Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon to interact with the girls who will be here and talk about archaeology and what it's like to be an archaeologist. They said, it's one of their favorite events as scientists, as female scientists, because the girls are so excited, and they have so many wonderful comments and questions during the day. I thought, okay, well we need to do more of that and we need to promote our female scientists more and I'm now on a mission to do more of that.

    Jayshree Seth:
    That’s all of my questions, thank you both so much. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

    Laurie Fink:
    Well, I have to say that I was really excited that 3M is doing this and promoting scientists. I love the term Science Champions. I hope that you have some really great conversations with other scientists and giving science a voice in this way is really exciting. It's a conversation we've been having a lot on the senior team here at the Museum. How can we promote science in a positive way? How can we make it more relevant? How can we get more voices to the table? We have a group called the Strategic Operating Group. It's mostly director level people here at the museum and we did the activity where you get a blank piece of paper and some markers and crayons and say draw a scientist. It's often done in classrooms too. The sad thing is in classrooms, it's usually a person wearing a white coat, it's usually a male and they usually have a pocket protector. That happened to many people here at the director level too and we had a whole conversation about how scientists don't just wear white lab coat. Scientists are out in the field. They're looking for dinosaur bones. They're looking at how people learn in an informal science setting. It's really a diverse thing. There isn't a single scientist and we need more women in the field. We need more people of color. We need more first-generation college students as scientists. We're all curious people. We can be innovative and let's give more people a chance to do that because we will solve more problems.

    Patrick Hamilton:
    So, I was delighted to learn about this initiative that 3M is engaged in because I think both Laurie and I have a lot of interactions not only with the scientists on our staff but scientists at the University of Minnesota and elsewhere. I guess speaking for myself, the conversations over the last 12 to 18 months have been discouraging. There's been a lot of apprehension in the scientific community about resistance or even antagonism to scientific information. When so much of what we now take for granted was made possible for through science technology, engineering and math. The further advancements that we expect or want in our lives is dependent on continuing to advance our real understanding of how the world works. So, we need as many voices as possible to be able to speak out about the role that science can play and is playing and improving our quality of life. It's great to have partners in that effort. So, we don't all feel alone.

    Laurie Fink:
    Right. Well, I think it was Neil deGrasse Tyson who said, science is not a buffet and you can't pick and choose which science you want to believe. I think that that's really true. We as scientists need to make that known and more relevant. I think people need to stop and think about that a little bit too.

    Jayshree Seth:
    Thanks again for joining me today.

    Laurie Fink:
    Thank you so much for having us. It's been a pleasure.

    Patrick Hamilton:
    Thank you very much for the opportunity. It's been a great morning of science conversation.

    Jayshree Seth:
    Science is fascinating, that much is certain. It’s more than microscopes and lab coats, equations and formulas. It’s the most powerful tool we have for understanding the universe, from galaxies and dark matter to the mysteries of sub-atomic particles. You don’t have to be a scientist to be intrigued — but people do need encouragement to go deeper. We need to better engage and communicate with children and adults to help turn fascination into a lifelong passion for science.

    Thank you for listening to Science Champions. For more in-depth analysis of the current state of science, join us at 3m.com/scienceindex. And make sure to subscribe to the podcast to catch our next episode! You can subscribe on iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

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