Have you ever encountered a lady dressed wearing a lab coat and talking about scientific staff standing on a soapbox in the middle of your local high street?
If your answer is yes, chances are you took part in a Soapbox Science event. Soapbox Science is a fairly recent (everything started in 2011) outreach platform for promoting female scientists and the work they do.
The two co-founders of this fantastic series of events are the ecologist Nathalie Pettorelli, who currently works as researcher at the London zoo, and the biologist Serian Sumner, member of the Eusocial Insect Research Group, at the University College London.
Public areas are transformed into an arena for public learning and scientific debate, following the format of London Hyde Park’s Speaker’s Corner, which is an historical place for public debate.
It is all about direct, hands on science communication:
“What happens if you put a few scientists on soapboxes on a busy street? We’ll tell you what happens: People who don’t usually think about science get to hear about it first hand, from scientists who don’t necessarily have shaggy beards and odd matching shoes, but who do know how to share their passion for experimentation, discovery and innovation. Soapbox Science is a grass-roots approach to taking science to the public. No fancy festivals; no stuffy lecture-theatres: just some of the UK’s top women in science, a couple of silly props, a dash of summer showers, and lots of unsuspecting tourists. It’s street theatre with a difference. And we aim to make a difference!”
Sumner & Pettorelli, Soapbox Science Founders, July 2012.
Someone may see the fact that the speakers have to meet only the requirement of being a woman, other than being a genuine scientist, as discriminatory. I would rather call it a positive discrimination, a way to put ourselves in the first line showing to the public what we can do and that we actually do it, showing off the importance of women in STEM. Many people struggle to convey on the fact that there is a problem of imbalance and stereotypes preventing women to occupy the decisional places of the ladder, but the House of Common Science and Technology Committee report “Women in Scientific Careers” 2014 states that only the 17 % of academics in STEM are female, even though the number of women enrolling scientific courses is increasing.
One of the most important Soapbox Science event is going to take place in Brighton on Saturday 29th July 2017, 1-4pm, on Brighton Seafront. The key speakers of the day will be:
- Ms Pollie Barden (@polliepi), University of Sussex “Firefly – A game of dark intentions”
- Professor Claudia Eberlein (@ClaudiaPhysics), University of Sussex “The Quantum Vacuum – Something from Nothing?”
- Dr Samantha Furfari (@SamFurfari), University of Sussex “Coordination Chemistry: What is it and what can it be used for?”
- Dr Orode Aniejurengho (@orodeUVA), Tissue Click Ltd. “Using helpful viruses as medicine to fight bacterial infections”
- Ms Madeleine Conaghan (@maddyconaghan), University of Brighton “Invent, Design and Create products that solve problems”
- Dr Charlotte Clarke (@astronomnomy), Brighton and Sussex Medical School “Why astrophysics and neuroscience look the same to a rubber duck”
- Miss Millie Watts (@GeoMillie), University of Southampton “Will climate change cause more tsunamis in the UK?”
- Professor Louise Serpell (@serpelllab), University of Sussex “Changing the shape of proteins: from spiders to Alzheimer’s disease”
- Dr Ruth Murrell-Lagnado (@RuthMurL), University of Sussex “Excitable cells and Drugs”
- Dr Dawn Scott, University of Brighton “City nights with the wild furry urbanites: do you know what happens in your garden after dark?”
- Miss Taniya Parikh (@taniyaaaaaaa), University of Portsmouth “A galactic tale: from a cloud of gas and dust to billions of stars”
- Ms Sonali Mohapatra (@Sonali_Mohapatr), University of Sussex “Gravity and Blackholes: Linking Fantasy and Reality”
For this event Soapbosx Science is still looking for volunteers helping out rounding up the public, chatting to them informally about science, supporting the speakers by managing props and helping to calm any pre-box nerves as well as handing out Soapbox goodies to lucky audience members. But perhaps the most important role of the volunteers is gathering data so we can effectively monitor the success of the event: volunteers carry out the bulk of our streamlined evaluation process, through interviews, observations and counting footfall.
For more practical information and application click here.