2.2 ‘Go See’ science promotion events
Every year, the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) runs a week-long Festival of Science in a different town or city, claiming it to be the largest public celebration of science in the country. The events are diverse in topic and character. The 2004 Festival in Exeter, for example, included a Presidential lecture on the responsibility of scientists, an exhibition on climate change, and an excursion to a nearby car park to test geometry by chalking lines on the ground. Festivals attract wide audiences, but tickets are costly (around £20 per day for the 2005 Festival, although ostensibly ‘free’ coverage is available on the BA web pages).
Since 1994, the BA have also run National Science Week. This event takes place every March and offers hundreds of public talks, workshops and exhibitions around the country. Sometimes the Weeks are thematic – the 2005 National Science Week was a celebration of Einstein Year – and events may be locally specific (for example related to a local inventor or organisation). The BA says that it runs these events to celebrate the importance of science in everyday life and to make science and its applications accessible to all.
NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and Arts) and the Nuffield Foundation run a long-term sponsorship programme of six ‘Cities of Science’ in the UK, focusing on how these cities and their regions benefit science and, equally, are benefited by science. At the time of writing (2006), the sponsored cities were London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and the South West, Newcastle and the North East, and Birmingham and the West Midlands. The scheme invites the public to learn about historical and contemporary science research in their area and to join local science promotion events – for example going on a tour of an original jewellery factory in Birmingham, listening to an explanation of the telescope inside the London Monument, and going on fieldtrips to quarries and fossil beds in the North West.
‘Science on the Buses’ was a UK-wide bus poster campaign that was run in nine UK cities in the late 1990s. Designed by Frank Burnet and the Graphic Science Unit at the University of the West of England, the message of the posters was that science is part of everyday life, with scientists sharing the interests and concerns of their fellow citizens. Young adults, identified by the team as being frequent bus users and poorly served by other PEST (Public Engagement in Science and Technology) methods, were the target audience. As a way of evolving PEST communication methods to suit the target audience, the posters were deliberately light-hearted and intriguing rather than didactic, with graphics that resembled nightclub flyers. The event was sponsored by the Millennium Commission, the OST (Office of Science and Technology), the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
The ‘Pub Understanding of Science’ project, started in 1997, used beer mats to further the ‘public understanding of science, life and the Universe’. Scientific questions and answers, written by biologist David Walker and illustrator Mic Rolph, were printed on beer mats and placed in pubs across the country. The idea was that these unusual and eye-catching beer mats would inspire drinkers to start talking about science, whether or not they answered the questions correctly. The project was sponsored by the Millennium Commission, Royal Society and BA.
Gunter von Hagen’s public autopsies and exhibitions have not only created great controversy – and publicity – for the inventor and his Institute for Plastination, but have also achieved phenomenal success in terms of visitor numbers. The exhibitions, called ‘Bodyworlds’ and ‘Bodyworlds 2’, have run almost continually since 1996 and have attracted around 16 million people worldwide – allegedly the largest number of visitors ever recorded for a touring exhibition, according to the ‘Bodyworlds’ website.