Science Communication events have become fairly prolific in the UK. Often in some edgy bar, usually with the same crowd of committed science fans. So it was (admittedly) with a little jadedness that I took myself last week to The Proud Archivist in East London for Cerebral Soiree, the latest offering from the London Brain Project.
The LBP is a collective of three neuroscientists and one artist. Their previous projects have either centred on children or scientist-patient interactions. This was the first open adult event that they have run. We were invited to sit down at one of the big tables and take a look at the things in front of us, there was a quiz, a puzzle and lots of pots of beads, there was even a (un)proven Tarot card reader in the corner. People got drinks, got comfortable and started to chat. Actually the whole environment was incredibly social and most of the time we were left to ourselves. There is of course a brief introduction and an explanation of the main activity: all the beads represent different brain areas, we had to think back through our day’s activities and consider which areas had been involved in each. Then we strung the beads together onto a necklace or key ring representing are brain activity for the day.
Though public engagement as an exercise in dialogue has been on the agenda for some time, I still find that most adult events get their information across largely through lectures (although these may be comedic or involve lots of exciting demonstrations). LBP managed to almost entirely avoid this with their explorative workshop. We were told at the beginning that the activity was based on a children’s workshop they had done previously and this did come across. It is often forgotten that simple demonstrations and self-discovery are effective with any audience. And whether it is due to the search for the “wow factor” or a communicator’s own ego, we as the audience are rarely given the chance to think for ourselves and play around with concepts. By adapting a children’s activity LBP retained the basic premise that through getting involved, we tend to learn more.
This is not to say that everything was perfect, the children’s work shop could have been complexified further for an adult audience and all the activities were over far too quickly. Also a little more showmanship from our hosts wouldn’t have gone amiss. But these were all teething problems from a first event and small obstacles to overcome. Cerebral Soiree was a sociable evening where I learnt a little, made lots of new friends and (maybe most importantly) did not feel intimidated by science. So thank you very much girls, I will definitely be keeping an eye out for your next project.
Images by Holly Birtles