You may have noticed that I haven’t been blogging much in the last couple of years. After producing the animation on gravitational waves, I have refocused my career from science communication and outreach to teaching.
In the past academic year, I successfully attended the International Post Graduate Certificate Course that Durham University jointly offers with the International School of Geneva.
The days preceding the end of the year ceremony, I felt inspired and composed these few rhymes about what the course represented and what teaching means to me. I dedicate them to all my fellow teachers colleagues and the students with whom we are entrusted.
“It was dense, it was intense
To become a teacher, it makes sense
A scientist, a psychologist
A librarian, a technician
A physician, a mathematician
A friendly face,
Who works with pace
Who’s there for all
Waits them in the hall
Knows their names
Soothes their pains
Preaches and teaches
Values and lessons
With words and in person
A talker, a listener
A giver, a believer
A dreamer, an entertainer …
It is dense, it is intense
To be a teacher, it makes sense”
I hope you have appreciated my posts so far, for example my Ode to the Higgs and “Gravity: the dance of space and time“; I’ll return to them in the future but now it is time for me to tell you something about me: Who am I? What brought me to start a blog? Why do I like being a blogger? When did I start doing what I do? Where have I made my experiences so far? Before you give up reading let me assure you: I’m not going to write a novel of my life but, as I feel some background is important, I’ll just sketch a few chapters of my biography anyway 😉
Who. I like to define myself as a “sociable physicist”, that’s to say someone who is equally appreciative of the conquests of the human mind, as well as of them being shared with those who did not take part in the endeavor … other than paying for that through their taxes. And that is What brought me to this point of my life, where I’ve realized that my deepest passion for the physical sciences has to be expressed through what it is generally called “public outreach“. I’ve recently read a blog post debating about what meaning to assign to “public outreach”: is it something resembling preaching to the converted or does it really reach out to people who do not know why science concerns all of them? As much as I value initiatives falling in the first category, such as public lectures or popular science books, I believe they have to be accompanied by a larger set of efforts. This attitude is best defined, I think, as a marketing strategy for fundamental science, which is how I called it in a paper you can find at this address: http://arxiv.org/abs/1210.0082. There I explore why it is important that the scientific community reaches out to the largest public, through a variety of means and approaches that are tailored on the target audience. Another salient aspect of my proposal is its somewhat invasive character: you have to use your target audience’s interests in order to have it pay attention to a scientific content whatsoever. That’s where marketing kicks in. Of course among the means I propose to be more efficiently used and exploited by the scientific community are internet and the world of social media: you can’t hope to reach out to the public if you do not have a presence where the public is and spends time. Therefore I felt I had to start my own blog. Truth be told this is not my very first try: even before I opened an account on Blogger I started looking at a few other, such as those at Scientopia, where later on I have been offered a time slot as a guest blogger. Why: check.
When and Where. About a year ago I took the decision to put aside research and follow my real inclination and passion of popularizing science. I was starting my second year as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland, just outside Washington DC, which I had joined after four years of doctoral training in theoretical physics at the University of Geneva, in Switzerland. All along those years I’ve promptly taken any occasion to share tales of my personal journey in the world of the physical sciences: be them related to the exploration of advanced concepts or concerning visiting scientific cathedrals, such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN or the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. However most of the people with whom I could talk did not show the interest I was hoping for: in general they did not feel much drawn to the theoretical aspects, however fancy their names were, or proud citizens of a country that sponsors the pursuit of knowledge. They did not know that those cathedrals I revered so much serve two purposes: the first is the scientific goal they are after, the second is to empower mankind with new means for growth and prosperity. The most eloquent examples of how this is true are both related to CERN (I’m Italian and I’m proud of my country being among the pioneer countries which founded CERN just after World War 2). First, the Large Hadron Collider, the experiment that has discovered a new particle of Nature, be it the Higgs Boson or not, has the word “hadrons” in its name: this is a category of subatomic particles subject to the strong nuclear force; had scientists not been curious about what lies at ever more microscopic scales and how it behaves, we would have not known that hadrons exist and that they can be used as very precise projectiles to be shot at tumors lying deep down inside the human body. Second, the World Wide Web, the network we now massively use to communicate, work, exchange and look for info, travel, buy, etc: its inventor, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, used to work at CERN.
Both connections between fundamental physics and everyone’s life are so profound you’d wonder how we (read: our governments) do not try and find more ways to keep this healthy process alive. That is the mission I’ve chosen for myself: to make people aware, first, and appreciative, afterwards, of why science is both beautiful and useful. I’m confident this blogging experience will serve this purpose of mine, as well as teach me how to do it better along the way.
[ disclaimer: I have very slightly re-edited this post from a guest contribution I wrote for Scientopia ]