Projects

Project picture

Meet the ... Scientist/Engineer

Location
Manchester

Project Summary

Scientists and engineers come equipped with hands-on, interactive activities to engage the whole family, at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Project Partners

Name:
Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI)
Name:
Researchers from universities across the North West

Benefits & Impact

The event format has developed and grown in strength and number, for example:

  • 16 MTS events took place at MOSI in 2011, including sport scientists, nanotechnologists, chemical engineer, telecommunication engineers, physiologists, neuroscientists, acoustic engineers, sustainability specialists, biomedical scientists, nuclear scientists, vision and biomedical imaging scientists.
  • The number of researchers and academics from the Earth and Physical Sciences Faculty at the University of Manchester who participated in a Meet the Scientists event has increased from 3 in 2009, 2 in 2010 to 13 in 2011. For this year’s programme (2012) there are a further 6 researchers booked up to October.
  • Underpinning the success of this increase was a supporting officer on a Simon Fellowship who worked closely with researchers at the Earth and Physical Sciences Faculty to develop their confidence in public engagement.

Quotes

"These events are an excellent way of engaging with people to showcase the excitement, challenge and impact of your subject."  Professor Nigel Linge School of Computing, Science and Engineering, University of Salford.

Lessons Learnt

  • Good communication with the scientists and the science communication officer at MOSI is essential.
  • Understanding that the target audience for the event are families, including small children, so abstract posters must be accompanied with visually appealing and stimulating material, i.e. presentation needs to be considered carefully.
  • Taking into account that resources at MOSI are also limited; outlining the possibilities but also the limitations and capacity of the venue hosting the events.
  • It is important to find the right balance between being prescriptive about the format, content and presentation of the events, whilst encouraging and supporting individual ideas of the scientists.
  • Having reasonable expectations of the scientists and engineers hosting the event; understanding that scientists are busy people and have limited time to prepare PE activities (understanding the limitations of what is possible).
  • It would be useful to try and make the STEM topics that the scientists present more synced and reactive to current advances in science. This is challenging, however, because of the need to book these events far in advance.
  • Do good evaluation of the impact of the events, both of how the audience  found the events but also to gauge how useful the scientists found/find the events.

Top Tips

  • Know your audience. If you are engaging with families, ensure you have learning activities appropriate for several age groups.
  • Prepare as much as possible, but don't worry about it being perfect. The nature of these events is that they are learning experience for all involved; the staff at the site (in managing the event), the scientist (in public engagement) and the public (learning more about the subject).
  • Organisers make sure you have good contact with your scientists and vice versa; make sure you know whose responsible for what and other logistics of the event.

Background

Meet the Scientists (MTS) events at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) grew from an initiative proposed by Ecsite-UK, the European Network of Science Centre and Museums, which was piloted in science centres and science museums across the UK.

MTS now provides a regular timeslot where scientists and engineers interact with the public, encouraging an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and bringing their field and research to life.

Aims & Objectives

The original purpose of MTS events were to act as ‘dialogue events’:

  • where scientists could develop skills and confidence in engaging with the general public audience
  • that provided opportunities for groups of the general public to engage in dialogue about EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Science Research Council)- supported research topics.
  • that take place in science centres and science museums , which can act as ‘neutral venues’.

Approach

The current science communication officer coordinates and facilitates the MTS events and provides support to the scientists in preparing and planning for the day.

 An initial face-to-face meeting is used to gauge the scientist’s level of experience with public engagement and thus how much support they need.  A checklist is also provided to help effectively devise and develop a suitable activity, for example things, ‘prior to the event’, including writing a risk assessment, providing a public liability insurance certificate, ensuring enough Criminal Records Bureau checked persons are present, number of tables, the type of space needed for the activity; things to remember ‘on the day’; and also a list of general starting ideas for activities; ‘build something, show some fancy equipment, solve a puzzle, contribute to the bigger picture’ etc. 

The outcome of the event depends on the actual content of the engagement activity but include gaining a better understanding of, insight into and inspiration for a particular STEM subject. Very hands on sessions may also result in a member of the public gaining new skills.