It’s time again for experiments, fun and science! Yes, you read correctly fun and science can go along with each other! As part of the University’s Campus Festival 2015, a Science Slam is taking place on the 12th of June in Vienna. In the spirit of Science Slams “Stage instead of auditorium!” scientists and students give a glimpse into their research to the public. If you have exciting research to share, apply until the 13.5! Otherwise join the crowd at the Altes AKH to watch the battle of scientists.
Last year, Martin Moder established himself as a successful and experienced science slammer. We had the chance to chat with him about the new format of spreading scientific content to the public!
Q: You are currently doing your PhD at the Center for Molecular Medicine (CeMM). Can you tell us a bit more about your background?
Martin: I did my bachelor in Microbiology and Genetics at the University of Vienna and later focused on Molecular Medicine. Towards the end of my bachelor studies I began working in a visitor’s laboratory called Vienna Open Lab. It was the first time that I got in contact with science communication on a regular basis. I really enjoyed it and ended up participating in every science communication training that my university was offering.
Q: In 2014 you participated in the Science Slam Graz that you won and qualified for the Austrian science slam final in Vienna. What happened afterwards?
Martin: It was quite a straight run. I did three science slams. One in Graz, one at the Austrian finals in Vienna and one at the European finals in Copenhagen. It turned out that people are really excited about fruit flies! I ended up winning all three of them. A few days after the Austrian finals, a friend of mine wrote me, claiming that after watching my slam, her son established a secret fruit fly breeding station by hiding old fruits beneath her couch. Mission accomplished.
Q: What motivated you to participate in a Science Slam in the first place?
Martin: I know many great scientists, which are quite hilarious people. Yet as soon as you put them in front of an audience or point a camera at them, they start acting super serious and hide their enthusiasm. To many people, this appears boring and they stop listening. Scientists often think they have to act that way, in order for people to trust in their professionalism and keep tax money flowing. I think that is shortsighted. If you want people to support research, you must first get them to understand how research is done and why. And if that means that you must simplify and grab their attention by dressing up as a fruit fly, then this is what you have to do.
Get to know more about teeny-tiny flies :
Q: Why is it so important to convey scientific knowledge to laymen?
Martin: The popular astronomer Carl Sagan once said:
“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology”.
Science is moving forward at an incredible speed. New technologies brought us towards the edge of altering the human genome, yet I see hardly any public discussion about that. In a democracy, the requirement for a fruitful discussion is that people are able to build an informed opinion. Ideally, before the technology is ready. Let’s support society in this quest!
The other reason is more straightforward: Science is beautiful. It’s a tool that allows us to recognize aspects of the world, otherwise hidden from us. My personal experience is that the more I learn about science, the more fascinating the world appears to me. Science reveals the richness of seemingly trivial things and is thereby showing us additional beauty and making us happier. So why not share this pleasure?
Q: The last Science Slam in Linz was completely sold out. Why do you think science subjects in school are so unpopular but people can be mobilized to watch talks at a science slam?
Martin: My school experience was that you primarily learn facts about reality, that other people have discovered. Teachers hardly tell you about the struggle and excitement of the researcher, who came to a particular conclusion. Imagine you went to a movie, just to watch the last five minutes of the film. That’s bad storytelling! The most fun part about science is not learning from textbooks, but following your curiosity and being the first one to understand something that nobody managed to grasp before. Science Slams present young researchers and their quest of expanding human knowledge. You get to witness how excited they are about what they do and that excitement is contagious. And maybe, if they succeed in their projects, on day their findings will also become textbook knowledge for bored students to memorize.
Q: Do you plan to participate again? And do you have any tips for prospective slammers?
Martin: I did a few more fruit fly shows besides the official science slams. It was all a lot of fun, but I don’t want to restrict myself to that format. There is always something nice to do. To prospective slammers I would say: If you ever thought about participating in a Science Slam, do it! Everybody I met there was having fun, there is no competitive atmosphere whatsoever. People just want to share their excitement, which is an inspiring thing to witness. And don’t be afraid to simplify. It’s not a conference talk, people will not shake their heads because you said “virus” to a bacteriophage. The only thing you can do wrong is to be so overly accurate, that it’s getting too complicated for people to follow. Try to share your excitement, deliver the most fascinating aspects of your research and make people enjoy the show by having fun yourself.
Q: What’s up next for you? Are you working on more “science communication” projects at the moment?
Martin: Currently I’m putting the vast majority of my energy into my PhD projects. But I’m trying to continue spreading the gospel of science whenever I have some spare time. At the moment I’m writing a monthly science blog called GENau. I’m also trying to stay active in the Austrian Skeptics Movement “Gesellschaft für Kritisches Denken”. As long as I do research I will try to share my excitement in some format whenever I manage to.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for our readers interested in science?
Martin: There are endless awesome science formats on the internet! Here are some that never fail to entertain and educate me:
The infinite monkey cage: A lively scientific discussion round, chaired by the physicist Brian Cox and a Comedian. I love listening to this one during long data-collecting session.
YouTube Channels (trash your TV and subscribe to those):
- Vsauce: Not exclusively science, but mind-blowing thoughts
- Minute Earth: The most entertaining way you can learn about our planet
- Minute Physics: That one really enhanced my appreciation for physics
- AsapSCIENCE: Nicely presented science from all domains
- SciShow: Regular, entertaining updates about scientific novelties
And of course Science Slams!
Thanks a lot to Martin Moder for the time and interview!
Header image credits royalty free