I came across this brilliant TED lecture explaining the nature of light using dance:
Skilful dancers bring particle physics to life but regular people can do it too. A few years ago I wrote a science theatre show for Edinburgh University that included a 20-volunteer demonstration. My volunteers stood in a long line all facing forward with both hands on the shoulders of the person in front. Each person represented a molecule and collectively they represented gas. We made a sound at one end and it travelled through the gas as each person patted the shoulders of the person in front when they felt a pat, a sort of mexican pat to show the longitudinal nature of sound waves.
The volunteers demonstrated what happens to sound in a vacuum by breaking the chain with a gap; the pat (or sound) couldn’t travel through it. They showed how sound travels faster when molecules are closer together in a liquid; they stood closer and the pat travelled faster just like it does in real life. Volunteers are a brilliant way to represent the physical properties of an abstract concept and most importantly, we had fun and experienced something collectively.
Top Tips on Working with Volunteers When Communicating Science
As a presenter you control the space, you need to keep everyone engaged and comfortable. The best way to do this with volunteers is to address to your volunteer loudly, then you’re addressing the audience at the same time e.g.
PRESENTER: What’s your name?
PRESENTER: Derrick you must be a brave man. I’d like you to loop this string onto each finger…
The audience will identify with the volunteer’s task; you bring them into it as it unfolds. If you speak quietly to explain something to the volunteer, the audience are no longer part of the show; you’ve lost them. They’re likely to start talking between themselves and who can blame them? If you speak to the audience but not the volunteer, the volunteer is left feeling awkward, wondering where they should be standing and what they should be doing. If your volunteer is a child, they’re likely to start fidgeting with something nearby at this point – your props most likely. It could be dangerous and it’s not fair to leave them alone in front of so many people. Remember to ask and use your volunteer’s name. If you have 20 volunteers in a row, just use the names of the person at either end (unless you are some sort of name genius). The point is by addressing both volunteer and the audience you keep everyone with you, you keep everyone safe, engaged and happy.
Science, I Miss You!
I miss writing science theatre shows. I miss seeing people excited about science. I miss blowing things up. This video reminded me I want my year ahead to include a little more science and a lot more dancing.