The way you choose to communicate your research ultimately depends on your audience and the ways they like to digest information. However, below are some fun ideas that could be adpated for different audiences as well as being useful both online and offline in some cases.
Lots of people listen to podcasts and with so many different podacsts to choose from, there will be one out there that will be a great fit to disseminate your research! Perhaps there’s a podcast that you listen to already (and creates content regularly) that has an audience you want to communicate with?
Contacting them could be as simple as sending them a direct message on Twitter!. Tell them about your research, why it would be a great fit for their podcast and how it would benefit their audience to know about your research. This isn’t a guaranteed win, but some smaller podcasts might be able to accomodate your research better than larger ones.
Creative Reactions, part of Pint of Science, have sucessfully matched scientists and artists for a few years now. Or maybe there is a local artist you admire and would love to work with. Art students from A-Level upwards would also make great collaborators on these types of projects and you might end up communicating your science to them in the process!
Being an artist yourself doesn’t rule this option out; different artists will interpret your research in a different way to you, providing you with a new perspective. After hearing about your research they might focus on a completely different aspect than you would have and help you to include this in future communications of your research.
The global phenomenon that has everyone dancing is a platform that many scientists are using to disseminate science to the masses. Dr Sarah A.H (aka Science Bae) has over 2 million likes on her videos which include home experiments and short educational talks that are both fun and informative. Videos like this are the epitome of learning that doesn’t feel like learning.
TikTok or similar formats like Instagram Reels, are a great way to embelish short snippets of science with music, bold text and emojis without having experience in video editing or graphic design. A TikTok video is usually 60 seconds in length so this is a great way to dig down into what makes your research relevant to your audience!
How many GIFs or memes do you see in a day? GIPHY have some incredible stats about the use of GIFs as well as providing a free tool to make GIFs yourself. A GIF is a very short repeating video used in many cases to express emotions, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t express your research with it too. A meme, often one picture overlaid with text, is even simpler to create with a free tool like Canva and might communicate a problem that your research is aiming to solve.
GIFs and memes are a short, snappy way to capture some main points of your research which you can share to social media and spread the word to your friends and followers. Perhaps approach your organisation’s communication department and ask them to share your GIF or meme on their social media so that you get more views.
Whether you want to perform or not, storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to get your audience immersed in your research. I was first introduced to science theatre by The Rising Ape Collective and went to a lot of their events and performances when I lived in Bristol. I was also nearly involved with a brilliant play called Nosocomial, written by Nicola Baldwin in collaboration with Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green.
To start, you could use a simple story structure such as the hero’s journey with the main character being a bacterium or cell that you study. I’ve written many short stories in the past and now write a lot of science theatre as part of my day job; I often start by brainstorming my ideas on a mindmap to get all the things buzzing around in my head anchored on paper. Use this Ted-Ed Youtube playlist for some creative writing tips; they might also give you some inspiration if you like this idea but are drawing a blank.
Ardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit, are my all time favourite creators and probably the most famous stop motion animation artists. It is the process of moving something slightly, taking a photograph, moving it a bit more and so on until you have enough photographs to stitch together and make a video. You don’t have to use clay; paper cut outs, lab equipment, stationary or toys could just as easily be your characters and props! It’s an incredibly time and patience consuming medium, but the results can be enough to make someone catch their breath when seeing what you’ve achieved.
Typically one second of footage is made up of 25 pictures (also known as frames), but you can play around with how smooth you want the end footage to be and decrease this amount if you’re not looking to rival Ardman. You only need a camera or your phone to capture the frames, and have a look at this guide to find the best free software to stitch it all together. All in all, I find it to be a really tactile way to communicate anything and a way for your audience to really connect with your topic.
Poets have written about science for centuries and it appears to help both the writer and the reader to make sense of some aspect of science. Rudyard Kipling, writer of The Jungle Book, also wrote a poem titled “The Secret of the Machines” to talk about the astounding abilities of modern technology in 1911. More recently in 2015, British poet Sarah Howe wrote a poem called “Relativity” to communicate complex research in astrophysics. Also in 2015, Canadian poet and ecologist, Madhur Anand released a book of poems about ecology called “A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes“.
Writing poetry about your research might help you to think of metaphors to describe what you do and help your audience to picture the issue you are trying to solve, the experiments you undertake and impact your results might have. If this creative idea sparks your imagination, but you don’t know where to start, try reading this aptly named guide “How to Write a Poem“.
This is a bit of a wild card, but at university there were many science themed baking competitions that I should have got involved in. Additionally, I recently met a scientist who was involved in 2021’s Great Physics Bake Off run by Physics Cakes on Twitter. What better way to communicate a scientific concept than with something edible?
In a similar way to stop motion animation, making an aspect of your research out of cake is a tactile, awe inspiring way to engage an audience. Why not run a science baking workshop based around your research and explain it as you go? Or if you don’t fancy doing the baking yourself, you could host a competition for your audience to interpret your research through baking; this way they have to keep revisiting the information you provide to make sure they represent it accurately or talk to you directly for more information.
Why not tell the story of your research through a series of photographs. It sounds too simple to be on this list after stop motion animation and cake decoration, but photography has been a valuable means of communication for nearly 200 years! You could photograph a common process that you use in the lab to obtain results or a specific biology example could be showing the difference between cell populations with different genes inhibited.
All you need is you phone camera and an instagram account, or you could organise a photography exhibition at a science festival and get your whole lab to contribute. Make sure you keep the captions short so that the picture can do all the talking; a picture is worth a thousand words after all! Have a look at this article for some ideas on how you could photograph your subjects and this list of things to consider before, during and after taking a photograph.
Everyone uses at least three pieces of stationery every day and I’ve seen a growing trend for beautiful notebooks appear on my Instagram feed over the last few years. You could create a notebook cover or whole notebook and add information, facts and doodles on each page about your research; subconsciously communicating your reserach while your audience write notes of their own. This would also be a great thing to give out at science festivals or conferences on stalls. Alternatively, people could download a free year planner/ calendar so that you don’t have to pay for printing and also save paper!
In the same way that companies advertise by giving out free pens after speaking about their product, you could communicate your science by creating items that your audience uses regularly. Give them out at the end of a talk or workshop to reinforce the main points and remind them of your research every time they use the piece of stationary. Try to choose something that won’t create unnecessary waste or is likely to be thrown away in a clearout because they have too many! Browsing through Vistaprint might give you some inspiration if all you can think of is pens!
I hope some of these ideas have provided some inspiration for communicating your reasearch and proved that you don’t just have to write, present and be on a panel to explain your work. Admittedly, I’m not the first to write about creative science communication and there are endless other ways that you could create something to talk about your research! If you are inspired by reading anything I’ve put on this list and take it forward, tweet me @InMyStrideBlog with your creation, I’d love to see them!
This information is also available as an infographic.
What do you think of the ideas on this list? What other creative science communications have you seen? Comment below!
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