We’re running a series of guest posts from the judges of the 2013 Chemistry World science communication competition. In this, the first of the series, we hear from Sam Tang, public awareness scientist at the University of Nottingham.
The phrase ‘openness in science’ offers a variety of meanings. For me, as a science communicator, I feel openness describes how we communicate science to the public and the media.
I like to think we’ve come a long way in making science more open and accessible, and over the last nine years, I’ve seen science communication evolve from being a fringe activity that only a handful of volunteers gave their time to do (and, dare I say it, were looked down upon for partaking), to becoming an embedded activity in universities across the UK. Type ‘science communication’ into Google and it becomes apparent that it is now a discipline in its own right: a wealth of pages appear, from masters courses to conferences, jobs in the field, even a Wikipedia entry.
I tried the same web search for the arts and the humanities and there simply aren’t the equivalent qualifications or jobs available for these disciplines. Does this make science more open, or have we had to create such roles precisely because of public perceptions, be they real or imagined, of science being secretive or incomprehensible?
Openness also applies to interactions between us scientists, whether working in the same or different subjects. I recently spoke to a professor in mechanical engineering whose group is developing new methods and materials in 3D printing. He has started collaborations with pharmacists, polymer chemists and even psychologists. This sharing and collaboration comes about because each group strives to advance their respective fields, and in order to do so they have to look beyond their own research areas. ‘Interdisciplinary’ and ‘innovation’ are funding buzzwords but could they actually be a driving force for openness in the scientific community?
Openness is relevant for so much of science, I think I can see why it was chosen for the competition.
Samantha Tang occupies an unusual position in UK science communication, as a public awareness scientist at the University of Nottingham. Her role involves explaining chemistry in an informal, accessible and entertaining manner to a wide range of audiences, through varying mediums – including the University’s Periodic Table of Videos. She is also a former Chair of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s East Midlands section (2007-2013).