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Science, science, learn all about it!

YouScientist

YouScientist design by Sasha Stanojevic

When the Science Communications Program participants descend on The Banff Centre, they have two weeks to meet, greet and build a multi-media “sci comm” project complete with web site, podcast, text, video and social media. Participants bring strong science backgrounds and varying levels of communications experience, and they team up with Banff Centre staff and work studies who make a snap of classy designs, audio post production, video editing and sound creation.

The final products are fun (live spoof of The Dating Game), integrated (links to maps and projects in various locations), informed (look and listen to the examples here) and sometimes yummy (yes, there was a beer tasting component this year). More than that, these projects explore how to get the who, what, when, where and why of science out into the world.

Here you can see and listen to some of the results.  Note that the projects are a mix of fact and fiction when they are built for the program.  You will hear some interviews and some budding actors; you may even recognize Canada’s Science Guy, Jay Ingram, posing as someone else.

Earth Rover:

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Pollen Planet: 

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xPollinator: 

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You Scientist: 

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Click on the designs below to see them in a larger format.

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Five things I learned from Jay Ingram

I’ve been a huge fan of Discovery’s Daily Planet and CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, so it was a lot of fun recently to interview science broadcaster and writer Jay Ingram, past host of both of those shows. Ingram has been program chair of Science Communications here at the Centre since its inception. It’s a collaborative, intensive program, that focuses on making science more accessible to “regular people”. He’s also the co-founder of Beakerhead in Calgary, an annual city-wide, week-long festival connecting the arts and engineering, which will have its inaugural event this September. Ingram has spent his career making science entertaining, so I asked him to give me a few tips on how he does it.

Science Communications program chair, Jay Ingram. Photo: Kim Williams.

Science Communications program chair, Jay Ingram. Photo: Kim Williams.

1)  Untapped creativity is everywhere
“Wherever you look in the world today, whether it’s in the engineering sector or the art world or anything in between, there’s untapped creativity that can be exposed by bringing artists and engineers together. Just mix these people up in ways that haven’t been done before and then put it all out on the street. It’s a mistake to screen people too early in life. Sometimes when you take a bunch of kids who are doing really well in math and tell them, ‘you should be engineers’ you run the risk of suppressing any artistic creativity they have as well.”

2)  The zanier the better
“There’s a certain zaniness to (Beakerhead). Honestly, the people attracted to this idea are the kind of people who turn an arm chair into a moving vehicle that you can drive. That’s not an ordinary person. That’s the kind of person who is attracted to Beakerhead and in turn who we want to attract.”

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The science behind Neanderthal nookie

Ever lose the affection of a sweetheart to some Neanderthal? Turns out our distant ancestors may have faced this problem in a big way. Some geneticists believe that humans once actually mated with Neanderthals. The interspecies canoodling began about 30,000 years ago when the Ice Age forced co-habitation between the two groups.

Scientist Scott Unger, co-founder of the Experimental Podcast.

Scientist Scott Unger, co-founder of the Experimental Podcast.

Science communicator Scott Unger loves scientific oddities like these. In fact, the theory is the subject of a podcast produced for his project Experimental Podcast. Recent titles from the series include Skydiving AntsEunuch Spiders Snap Off Their Own Testicles, and Robots on Drugs. By turns quirky, mind-blowing, and downright scary, the series aims to present science in a fun and easily accessible way.

Unger, as well as many of Experimental Podcast’s contributors, honed their skills at the Banff Centre’s Science Communications Program. The two-week program demonstrates how scientific concepts can be explained by storytelling, interactive gaming, curriculum for kids, animation, and podcasting. “The program throws you into a unique position,” Unger says. “You’re exposed to such amazing information and people, and engaged in all kinds of creative projects. All at a breakneck speed, which is perfect for the enthusiastic.”

Ultimately, Unger hopes to strike a balance between the entertaining and the educational in his work. He emphasizes that while science education can be fun, its relevance has never been greater. “We live in an unprecedented moment. Information has exploded. But the question is how to extract signals from that noise. That’s what we attempt to do as science communicators.”

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Eight things I learned about art + science collaboration while eating a sandwich

Banff  Centre president Jeff Melanson (left) and CIFAR president and CEO Alan Bernstein take part in a panel discussion following an announcement of a partnership between the two organizations. Photo: Kim Williams, The Banff Centre

Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson (left) and CIFAR president and CEO Alan Bernstein take part in a panel discussion following an announcement of a partnership between the two organizations. Photo: Kim Williams, The Banff Centre

Yesterday the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) and The Banff Centre announced a new partnership aimed at strengthening Canada’s capacity in creativity and innovation.

In his opening remarks Banff Centre president Jeff Melanson, tongue planted firmly in cheek, suggested that he and CIFAR CEO Alan Bernstein were announcing their engagement. But behind the smiles lay the essence of this partnership – which is aimed at establishing productive relationships between scientists and artists. CIFAR and The Banff Centre together represent many of the world’s best minds engaged in the arts, and in research in the natural and social sciences. The aim is to get those minds talking – together in Banff, adding to the rich conversation already established through the Banff International Research Station (BIRS).

The partnership was kicked off with a luncheon and panel discussion about colloboration in the arts and science. Herein, eight things I learned while munching my egg salad sandwich:

  1. Quantum physicists can be awesome dancers – and they can even use dance to illustrate the principles behind quantum computers: meet our panel moderator Krister Shalm and his Quantum Dance project. Krister has promised to bring his dance to Banff in the future!
  2. From Alan Bernstein: Nobel Laureates in the sciences are 14 times more likely to be artists and ten times more likely to be engaged in creative writing than other scientists. Continue Reading →
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Science like you’ve never seen it before

The kids are back at school, and the rest of us are finding ourselves with more time indoors to catch up on what’s been happening in the world while we’ve all been outside enjoying summer. Along with the mountains of information bombarding us via TV, Internet, and in every sort of printed matter, there’s always something new to learn from the world of science. Do you ever think about why some science stories – often based on complicated principles and complex theories – are so much more vivid and engaging, and make so much more sense than others? That’s pretty much ALL the participants think about in one of our popular programs offered here at The Banff Centre every summer.

In August a lively group of scientists and communicators spend two weeks here for the Science Communications program, led by Mary Anne Moser and Jay Ingram of Daily Planet and CBC Quirks and Quarks fame. The participants spent a packed two weeks collaborating as they explored wild and imaginative new ways of getting the often complex messages behind science out to the public.

This summer they explored creative and engaging new ways of sharing information on everything from electrical engineering, to microbiology, to the wonders of the solar system.

Here’s some photos from the program, by Kim Williams.

 

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Banff Summer Arts Festival Report: Week Nine

Week nine was filled with times that, just like a good horror movie, made me jump a little ! It happened at the two most popular events this past week: the opera Don Giovanni and the talk given by Jay Ingram. Even if the others in the audience didn’t jump, it looked to me that they enjoyed the unexpected as well!

I’m glad I remembered to bring my glasses for the opening night performance of Opera as Theatre‘s Don Giovanni to read the surtitles above the stage. I was worried I might have had to remember the story from reading it in first year university. Act One was non-stop comedy. Act Two was literally blazing hot. The show ended with projections of moving flames as the too-proud-to-repent Don Giovanni is being punished with hellfire for his evil ways. I still can’t get over the performances. Can you imagine singing complex ranges in scene after scene with lyrics in a language that’s not your native tongue?

The next night, watching Jay Ingram’s talk on prions was like watching a Ted Talk. He certainly knew what he was talking about, which was to be expected - most people know him from his hosting days on the Discovery Channel Canada program Daily Planet or CBC radio’s Quirks & Quarks. Prior to that evening I had never heard of kuru, scrapie, or the misfolded protein known as a prion. This doesn’t sound entertaining, but although everyone knew it would be enlightening, it actually turned out to be both. At one point Jay used a table full of mousetraps to illustrate one of his points – the part that made me jump, because I wasn’t expecting seven of the mousetraps to fly off the table.

Although I had sold a few copies of his books at the Banff Centre Press table outside the Margaret Greenham Theatre , the audience came in herds after the talk to buy not only signed copies of Fatal Flaws, but also a book we published called Science, She Loves Me which was co-edited by Jay, and Mary Anne Moser, co-director of the Science Communications program here.

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