“The Sun Will Come Out” serves as a wake-up call for better science communication

“The Sun Will Come Out” serves as a wake-up call for better science communication

“Take science communication seriously.” Ivo van Volpen, a specially appointed professor of science communication in physics, would like to convey this message to his colleagues during his inaugural lecture. It is still looked down upon by many researchers, despite its importance to the public and to science itself.

“The sun will set someday.” Van Volpen’s neighbor didn’t know what she heard when he told her about it at a party. She came back the next day to ask for further clarification. “Even though it would take billions of years for the Sun to go extinct, it turns out to be kind of an existential thing for my neighbor.” All these kinds of conversations with people outside physics came as a surprise to the professor: a lot of people seem to find physics interesting. But also: For many people, physics is now either too easily explained or too complex. While physics is the foundation of our society. For example, it is used in the manufacture of electricity, cameras and equipment in hospitals.

Particle physicist

Ivo van Volpen works one day a week as a professor specializing in science communication, especially physics. He is also a particle physicist at the UvA. He is interested in the small building blocks that make up nature. Van Volpen contributes to his research CERN in Geneva, where He participated, among other things, in the discovery of the Higgs boson. This particle explains why other particles have mass.

Science communication is also science

Even before becoming a professor, van Volpen was involved in science communication because he found it important and fun to share his passion for physics. In a very spontaneous way, he actually did something. This realization came when he spoke to science communication professor Ionica Smits. So I asked him: Why do you do the things you do? Van Wohlpen: I was speechless. It was embarrassing. I never thought you could look at communication scientifically. What works and what doesn’t?

See also  Deep in the universe, NASA's spacecraft discovers a strange static buzz

Since then, particle physicists have begun to view science communication more strategically. As a professor, he now studies how to organize scientific communication, how to convey its importance to the physics community and how to create more space for it.

Take it seriously

Van Volpen hopes that others will also take science communication seriously. According to him, science communication is still often looked down upon within the physics community. The idea is to do this if you are not good enough at research. Van Volpen believes this image must change. For example, think about how important it is to explain to politicians and policy makers how electricity works when they set energy transition policy.

“Scientific communication is an essential task for researchers,” he says. Not only is it important to share knowledge with a wide audience, but science also benefits from it. “You are forced to look at your own research from the outside and think about it in a different way.”

More and more initiatives

Van Volpen is happy because he sees more and more great initiatives. In collaboration with Margarete van der Heyden (who holds the same position at TU/e), he has started a summer school for doctoral and postdoctoral students, is one of the inventors of the wall formulas in Leiden, and wants to do a minor with colleagues in Leiden to prepare physics for non-scientific students. Physics is also of great value in many other fields. Such a minor has already achieved success in Groningen. Van Volpen: My chair is an important signal to society to make room for science communication. I am happy that I can bridge the gap between physics and science communication.

See also  Once again, Bohemian Rhapsody is #1, but why?

Text: Dagmar Arts
Photo: Wall formula in Leiden. Danek ter Horst

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *