Published: 04 April 2014

BSA Conference to highlight the funny side of science

Taking place on campus on 1 to 2 May, the British Science Association (BSA)’s Science Communication Conference will be packed with thought-provoking content, including a session on how science got funny.

Using comedy as a way of engaging people in science has become an increasingly popular tool in science communication and will be one of the key focuses of the Science Communication Conference. Taking place on the second day, a discussion session on ‘How did science get funny’ will explore how comedy can be used to engage with the broader public and the cultural impact it can achieve. The session will be hosted by renowned science communicators Simon Watt, Helen Arney (who hosts Festival of the Spoken Nerd), Dr Steve Cross (University College London) and Jonathan Milton (The Science Museum).

There will also be an opportunity to see science comedy in action. ‘Science Showoff’, a pre-conference charity science cabaret, will be staged at the Ivy Arts Centre on the evening of 30 April. Hosted by veteran science comedian Dr Steve Cross, this will feature acts from the conference and the wider sci-comm scene, and even a few familiar faces from the University – including Dr Nicola Rolfe, Surrey’s Public Engagement Ambassador.

Asked why she thinks comedy has become such a popular method of communicating science, Dr Rolfe says: “Science comedy works because when you look for comedy in your research, you generally find it. However it’s challenging: you have to throw every traditional method of communication out of the window, learn to be funny, try and see the comical aspects of the very boring and mundane things you do every day, and then shape that into a good joke.

“Comedy puts complicated research into a language that the public can understand, and they and you feel tremendously clever at the end. What starts as you and your line manager having a snigger over an organic conjugated molecule called ‘sexithiophene’ can end up with a room full of members of the public guffawing, if you set it up right.”

The Science Communication Conference, organised by the BSA in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, will welcome around 400 scientists and people from across the science communication field. The conference will include a combination of inspiring plenary sessions, panel discussions and practical activities, with themes including ‘The role of design in science communication’, ‘Take it on the chin: how to give and receive feedback’ and ‘Representing women – best practice for science communicators’. The full conference programme is available to download on the BSA’s website, where you can also find details of how to buy tickets for the conference.

The Science Showoff takes place at the Ivy Arts Centre from 7.30pm on 30 April (over 18s only). Tickets (costing £5 each) can be purchased from the Surrey event page. All ticket proceeds will go to Challengers, a local charity dedicated to providing exciting and challenging play and leisure opportunities for disabled children and young people.

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