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Experimenting with Art and Science

If you’re like me, you grew up thinking that artists and scientists inhabit non-overlapping worlds or perhaps even that they use different sides of their brain. Fortunately, great science communicators have stepped up to dispel this myth, coming up with creative new methods of bringing out the art in science. New projects like WNYC’s Radiolab or Studio 360 routinely weave potent storytelling, sound design, and music to frame the science story and stimulate their audiences’ imagination. During my Cambridge Science Festival wanderings, I’ve observed the same trends on display. The Story Collider is a science storytelling show that believes everyone has a personal science story to tell. On Tuesday night the founders of The Story Collider, Brian Wecht and Ben Lillie, hosted a storytelling event at the MIT Museum showcasing inspired science stories that had the packed museum in stitches for much of the night.

The evening featured an array of raconteurs from the humorous to the profound. We heard from the Museum’s own John Durant who told us about an awkward early teaching experience in “the other Cambridge” concerning an awkwardly timed pant seam malfunction, Harvard Public Policy Professor Ryan Sheeley explained why Green Day was the answer to his youthful squirreliness, paleontologist Phoebe Cohen kept everyone on the edge of their seat with a story about a close encounter with a grizzly bear while fossil hunting in the Alaskan wilderness, and science journalist Eli Kintisch explained how his limited aptitude for bench science led him to a career in science journalism. The night ended with a story from science writer Tom Levenson that picked up on the joys of science communication, a path that allows him to explore wide-open spaces. To me, this provided a satisfying summary for the entire evening — an engaging exploration of the uncharted realms and the wide-open spaces of science.
Art and science converged again on Monday night at the Science-Art-Media showcase at Emerson College. The showcase featured student’s creative scientific explorations through an unexpected range of artistic form. We listened to slam poetry inspired by plate tectonics, we heard about the discovery of DNA structure recounted in story and song, an illustrated children’s tale overturned common Neanderthal myths, and a hip hop music video put a beat to the climate change message. The evening culminated in a beautiful short film about a nature-loving man named Victor who devoted himself to planting 10,000 Trees in Washington.
All of these new experiments in social science share a common theme; they mine qualities like narrative, emotion, humor, and personal connection to discover new ways to communicate about science. This is where science comes to life and this is how science moves us.

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