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New Ways to Talk New Science at Fermilab

What's it like at a national science writers conference? Like a flurry of ideas, all about how to better communicate the type of work we do here at Fermilab.

I spent the last 16 years as a community journalist. It’s no secret that I’m brand new to this science communication thing.

Since starting work at Fermilab, I’ve been through a number of firsts: my first press release, my first PowerPoint presentation, my first time providing the setup for a joke on The Tonight Show. (Yes, that really happened.) And this weekend, I experienced my first science writers conference.

It was hosted by the National Association of Science Writers and took place at the Raleigh Convention Center in North Carolina. Which means that 10 days ago, I hopped on a plane and flew toward a hurricane, instead of away from one. (I safely outran that hurricane last Monday, landing home and dry in Chicago while Sandy made landfall on the East Coast.)

It also means I got to share a convention hall with about 500 impressively smart people. I got to hear about dark stars, and the Higgs boson, and different methods of scientifically predicting the outcome of the presidential election. I heard author David Quammen’s four-point plan to write better narrative stories. (One of the points: Go into the field with your sources and hope to experience some non-lethal disaster.)

I even made it into the photo of this Storified recap of one of the panels: http://storify.com/alexwitze/unearthing-narrative.

I learned a great deal at this convention, but if there’s one thing that rose to the top of my list, it’s this: Science communication, like all communication, has changed rapidly in the past few years.

One of the panels I attended was titled, “Do PIOs need journalists any more?” (A PIO is a public information officer, like yours truly.) As a former journalist myself, the question stung a little. The consensus answer was, yes, of course we need journalists. But just as much of news reporting has moved online and become more direct, so has science communication. 

Here at Fermilab, we appreciate the great work that journalists do when they write about our laboratory, our scientists and our research. But we’re also working to communicate directly with you as well.

We’re on Facebook and Twitter, and we update every day. We post neat videos on YouTube. We publish a daily newsletter and co-publish an online magazine. We’ve set up a live webcam to show you the construction of one of our coolest-looking experiments-in-progress. And we’ll be rolling out other interactive ideas in the coming months.

But of course, we’re always hoping to do more. If you have ideas for new ways we can tell our stories or new people we should be telling them to, please let us know.

Speaking of new ways to tell stories, there’s one other thing I wanted to mention from the NASW conference. Several of the talks I attended featured “science scribe” Perrin Ireland creating these neat visual interpretations of the presentations. She did these live, without seeing the material in advance. Just another interesting way to communicate complex scientific ideas in a format even newbies like me can better understand.

We need more things like this, and I’m on the lookout for them. Experiencing the multitude of ideas floating around at the NASW conference was energizing, and I’m hoping to put these ideas into practice. As always, please let me know how we’re doing.

Andre Salles is the media and community relations specialist at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia. He can be reached at asalles@fnal.gov or at 630-840-6733. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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