Inspiring story – From shopping mall to science roulette
March 12, 2020

Inspiring story – From shopping mall to science roulette

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach StoryAndreas Johnsson, an early career scientists at the Department of Earth Sciences at University of Göteborg, tells us about his experience taking part in one of the largest scientific outreach fairs in Europe.

With around 70 000 visitors every year, the Göteborg Science Festival in Sweden is one of Europe’s largest venues for scientific outreach. Exciting as it is to visit, it also opens up a plethora of opportunities for scientists to communicate our research. Events range from hands-on-activities for schools to host science departments, science slams, and panel debates, to more ordinary lectures at sometimes unexpected settings. 

Since my workplace is in Göteborg I always viewed the festival as a fun and important way of sharing planetary science with the public, and my first experience in doing so was during my graduate studies. The arena: a small stage and full blown screen in the middle of the shopping center at Nordstan in Göteborg. An unexpected place for people to be exposed to planetary science. I can’t really express my horror of trying to fight the commercial forces in this setting with shopping adverts, lights, and fashion stores.

At the start of the talk my friends and family made up the bulk of the audience while others quickly hastened by, chasing their next purchase. It is normally advisable to try to connect with the audience, but I have to admit that the somewhat intimidating setting made me go into tunnel vision, and only later did I realise that a wall of people had stopped to listen to and see results from the planet Mars. That’s one to science! 

Andreas Johnsson on stage at an event at the Göteborg Science Festival
My first experience of the Science Festival, a stage and full screen located in the middle of the shopping center.

One of my favorite events at the festival is the science roulette, and I have joined this activity almost every year. The basic idea is that each of the twenty-five gondolas of the Göteborg Ferris wheel host a scientist, and the public enter the Ferris wheel without knowing which scientist they will meet. This event creates a really interesting setting for casual coffee table discussions, with people whom you’ve never met. Also, the physical barriers of being high up in the air does not allow for an easy escape (in case they find the topic boring).

The advantages of this event are that it creates 20 minute face-to-face discussions where the eventgoers are more likely to ask questions and allows the scientists to go into greater detail, quickly adjusting to the visitors level of knowledge. Instead of computer slides, you may use other props such as printed images or fruits to represent Earth-Mars relationships and orbital characteristics. An obvious disadvantage of this event is the challenge to convince the eventgoer that your science is much more interesting than the thrill of riding the wheel with the spectacular urban views. 

In any case, the event creates a unique opportunity to share your science first hand and to engage in discussions with 20-30 people in total, and often a younger audience.   

View from "Science Roulette" at Göteborg Science Festival
View from mid-way up the Ferris wheel. It’s fun to talk science, combine it with a 90-minute freeride on the Ferris wheel and you have a winning concept (at least for me). Credit: Andreas Johnsson.

A more general remark about festivals like this is that you may find your favorite way of expressing your science. If you ever have the chance then go take it! Engaging with the public can be very rewarding and serves as a great opportunity to exercise your communication skills.     

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!