The Student
Local events break the science-public barrier

When you hear the word ‘scientist’, whom do you imagine? Think about it. Is it a white older man doing magic with chemicals, mumbling things to himself only a genius could understand? By visualising scientists as antisocial creatures with uncanny intelligence, we create a barrier between science and ourselves. How can we be scientists if we don’t work in labs for most of our lives with imprints of protective glasses on our foreheads? In fact, science is based on human needs and meant to benefit the general public, so such a stereotype is outright wrong. The Explorathon event aims to eliminate these stereotypes by showing that scientists are curious people, just like the rest of us.

Occuring last weekend, Explorathon was a weekend of celebrating research. It is the Scottish branch of European Researchers’ Night, where hundreds of professionals share their work with the greater community. Everyone is invited. No matter what your background is, Explorathon will have something to suit your interest.

The importance of such showcases is undeniable. The events give researchers a platform to convey what they’re studying, which is arguably the most important aspect of research; why develop something if no one knows how to use it? The events are also an opportunity to hear from people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Explorathon provides an opportunity to question scientists on their research, leading to further studies and discoveries. At the same time it is a chance for people to expand their knowledge and perhaps even their curiosity.

While the events themselves were entertaining and informative, they sadly lacked the audience such events are desperate to attract.

Visitors were, more often than not, coming from a scientific background themselves or, in the case of the Café Scientifique, regular attendees. The Explorathon markets itself as an event to blur the line between scientists and the general public, but it’s unfortunate that they could not attract a broader audience.Explorathon runs in 300 European cities every year and yet it is not well advertised. In more central locations, such as at the National Museum in Edinburgh for example, high attendances can almost be guaranteed. Museum-goers will wander in on a whim. In other places, such as with the Curiosity Forest which was tucked away on the side of a building, marketing is crucial for increased attendance. Sadly, this was rather lacking.

Spreading knowledge is a crucial, but often forgotten, aspect of science. This is why events like Explorathon are so important. They build bridges between researchers and the public, and nurture children’s curiosity for learning.

Furthermore, they give people a more general perspective of science, allowing them to understand and be fascinated by it in the same way academics are.

Image: Chris Scott