–by T.I. Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning and Communication
Public science lectures, events, cafés: They are everywhere! This past weekend, the ATLAS group at TRIUMF went to Science World in downtown Vancouver and gave a science talk about the Higgs, hosted a virtual tour of the ATLAS control room, and answered thousands of questions. Nearly 10,000 people passed through the doors that day. This past Tuesday night, Perimeter Institute director Neil Turok presented his third CBC Massey lecture, this one in Vancouver at UBC’s Chan Centre. The sell-out crowd was nearly 1,000 people. Last night near the waterfront station, TRIUMF science director Reiner Kruecken gave a talk about nuclear astrophysics at the public session of the APS Northwest Sectional meeting. And on November 1, the director of the NIH Human Genome Research Institute Eric Green will be giving a public talk about genomics and its future influence on clinical practice at GenomeBC.
Why is all of this happening? Can’t people just get enough of science and technology from YouTube, university classes, and specialized television programs? Heck, why did *I* go to some of these events? Is it the same reason I choose to attend certain music concerts or watch a play in person in the theatre?
I thought about this for awhile, and this is what I started to see.
Humans are social creatures. Maybe I am showing my age, but I still prefer being in a group and learning about something rather than sitting at home in a darkened room and just clicking and scrolling on my computer. I actually have different brain chemistry when in a group and listening to someone. At the Massey lecture, there was even something fun about my seatmate whispering questions to me during the talk (for instance, If the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate, does that mean the Solar System is actually getting bigger right now?). It would have been weird to have Neil Turok come over to my house and record his lecture in my living room with just me as the audience, right?
There’s something curious and fascinating about leading scientists and thinkers in person. I saw the Premier of British Columbia in a coffee shop this morning; she was just getting a cup of coffee like I was, and yet it was still “cool.” Listening to Neil Turok was special because he peppered his discussion of “What banged (in the Big Bang)?” with personal anecdotes, with humor, and with observations about history. I can get that same feel when I listen to the broadcasts on CBC Radio of course. I got to hear it “first” and “in the raw.”
There’s something neat about hearing something live, in the moment. And I got to hear what was happening “right now” rather than waiting for the lecture to be broadcast or waiting for someone to write a Wikipedia article about it.
What do you think? Why do people still throng to gather ‘round and listen to and talk about science and particle physics? What can we do to provide even more of what is needed and wanted?