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Alan Alda is my hero.
I'm a PhD student in the physical sciences, and I've always been interested in the communication of my work to broader audiences. I found that one of the nearby colleges offered a science journalism class, specifically focusing on crafting science stories, conveying scientific ideas to non-science audiences, and covering breaking health and technology news in an accessible way. Every research professor and department head I talked to in order to get the go-ahead (and believe me, there were a lot - the bureaucratic run-around was obscene) had the exact same response: "Sure...but why in the world would you want to do that?"
That's incredibly insightful. Not a single research advisor thought learning big-picture science communication was a good idea. And these guys are on the cutting edge of what science and technology is accomplishing today. They acquiesced, sure, but there was zero encouragement. It's a problem that runs very deep. I really see no good solution other than a sustained focus on communication for scientists all the way from the beginning to the end of their careers.
Children are born scientists. Anyone who has watched a small child drop something off their highchair and stare at it intently knows that. Most of early education is spent beating that sense of wonder out of the child, and communication is certainly part of that. Suppose we expected children to learn how to speak using perfect grammar the first time, and stopped them if they vocalized anything else? I have concluded that people become scientists mostly in spite of, not because of, the way we have traditionally taught science.
The way I had taught my child was with a bit of background first, she was only a small child though. As an 11 year old one not need be quite so stringent with the concepts. Mostly, things such as a good grasp of proportion are necessary, which allows explaining chemistry a bit easier. For a child this is necessary so they can understand things not visible to them due to size are going on. The most important differences with atomic sizes being magnets dominate the small, and almost everything acts like a magnet. Thus aside from the oether aspects I state here, magnets are also nice toys for children, as long as you dont show them they can warp your TV (a bit outdated with liquid crystal displays). Then when I explain Oxydation, I use an image either drawn or with whatever small roundish objects lay around. It is basically, one ball knocking off another and replacing it. This gives a tiny little bit of heat off, along with a small bit of light. As this goes on billions and trillions of times per secound, the heat adds up, as does the light. The flame itself is the heat and the small ball or atom that was knocked off which eventually gives off the light mentioned slightly delayed, thus the flame has a shape which is the free atoms given off in the reaction.
Im not good with explaining to adults, but think one of the biggest problems in society at larg is a lack of people actually understanding the information given to them. This being from politicians. A good set of examples are the turn of the century use of evelotion to spearhead the chucrch against science by making irrational false connections in the media, and the use of genetics by politicians to draw irrational conclusions about people at large. If people better understand the science, then it becomes increasingly difficult for politicians or others to lie to them or use partial or missinformation to justify a law or cause.
A flame is a fascinating object, especially to a child. I might say to an 11 year old that while we often see flame from a candle or from a gas stove one can cause flame from other substances such as hydrogen and chlorine or phosphorus and air from a match. If you have the right chemicals and get them hot enough they will react giving off energy in the form of heat and light. A flame has its shape because gas is lighter when its hot and therefore rises but cools when it contacts the air farther away. Colors in a carbon flame such as from a candle may also come from sodium and potassium vapor in the wick. If you hold salt grains in a flame you will get yellow light from
vaporizing the sodium.
The light comes from the electrical charges going back to the atoms as they cool
Interesting challenge! As a student majored in the sciences, I feel exactly the communication problem and I have been trying to improve the condition on myself. Feel a strong encouragement from this article.
There we are, the leading science magazine, and the editor’s remarks, as science does not exist for centuries. There were no Michael Polanyi with explanation that the science is about and Maria Montessori with her educational system. A culture of “sound bites" …
I doubt that anyone can compete with Michael Faraday's lectures titled The Chemical History of a Candle. These lectures were designed for young people and were given several times at the Royal Institution in London. They were first published in 1861 (last given in 1860). I have a copy published by the Cherokee Publishiing Co. of Atlanta Ga published in 1993 (ISBN: 0-87797-209-5). I would not try to compete with him.
i just read Faraday's lecture - you are out of your mind if you don't think anyone can comete with this long winded accouint from a centuey and a half ago. IMHO this kind of attitude is why people don't understand or become interested in science - in short you are the problem.
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