Sunday, 7 June 2015

Churchill Fellowship Science Online: Visiting MIT and BABY LOBSTERS

I packed my bags and headed to Boston this week for the first part of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to investigate how scientists are using social media to connect with the public.

Here's a round-up of the first part of my trip

There were stunning views from the flight all the way to Boston.
Hotel accommodation in Boston is super-expensive so I tried out Airbnb for the first time. It was really easy to find an Airbnb place located half-way between Harvard and MIT in Cambridge despite the lack of affordable hotels in this area. The apartment is lovely and my hosts were great. I'm definitely going to be using Airbnb more. I was pretty exhausted after the flight and so having a nice place to relax and rest was just what I needed.


Cambridge is a great area full of coffee shops and leafy streets. I got to know the area well on foot. It's easy to navigate and feels like around every corner is a lovely coffee shop, perfect for a cup-of tea and a think about the conversations that have been taking place.


On the first day of the project I attended the International Public Science Events Conference in the Media Lab at MIT. It was a great conference with plenty of ideas for new science events and information about science festivals that run around the U.S. There was lots of discussion about how science engagement events could be an 'immersive experience', similar to the secret cinema type events and 'haunted house' style. These are fun ideas which can challenge how people think about and interact with science.

At the conference I also met a number of people that I haven't seen for a very long time, or people that I have spoken to online but never met.. and quite a few new faces too. I was feeling pretty jet lagged so it was quite full on for day one of the trip and after the conference I headed straight home to nap!

I missed day one of the conference as I was travelling but there's lots of the discussion captured online via #IPSEC2015

It was fantastic seeing inside some of the MIT buildings. I loved the displays and small exhibition they have downstairs in the media lab.



The iconic Stata Center building at MIT
On my second day in Boston I met with Ben Kotrc who's a postdoctoral researcher in the NASA astrobiology group at MIT. He splits his time 50/50 between research and outreach. We met in a great coffee and breakfast place close to MIT called Darwin's.

It was great to chat to him informally about how he manages outreach for a diverse research group located not only at MIT but around the US and how they have integrated social media into their outreach programme. You can see more about his work and the research group here.

Science is EVERYWHERE around MIT!




Ben kindly gave me a tour of some of the MIT spaces including the beautiful and extremely peaceful engineering library and this Sol Lewitt designed floor. He also introduced me to the underground tunnels of MIT which I loved, although without him guiding me I think I would have been stuck under MIT forever. The tunnels connect all the buildings via underground passageways and I loved how industrial they are.

It's always worthwhile getting some local knowledge when exploring a new place.

The engineering library at MIT
The Sol Lewitt designed floor at MIT

The tunnels at MIT
More MIT tunnels!

In the afternoon I travelled north of Boston to the Northeastern University Marine Science Centre (MSC) to meet Marissa, a PhD student who used online crowdfunding to fund part of her research project. I headed to 'Wonderland' on the T line (the T is easy to use and came in handy when the weather was too bad to walk). While waiting at the station I had a bit of time and walked along to Revere beach. I thought I would try recording some video.. I'm trying to experiment with different types of online communication as I go on this trip. As much as I love blogging and Twitter I want to make sure I take myself out of my comfort zone. The lesson I learnt while recording this was that filming in windy locations with long hair is tricky. I could't see my face in the screen as the sun was too bright!





The Marine Science Centre lab is located on the peninsula at East Point in Natant and is housed in old WW2 bunker and defence area (!!). This is a photo of the entrance - pretty cool!



I had a great chat and tour with Marissa about her experiences of using experiment.com a site designed especially for the crowdfunding of research projects. I'm going to cover some extensive thoughts on this in a separate blog post. Marissa shared lots of thoughts with me, including some tips  for going about crowdfunding your work. For now, here's Marissa giving her view on her experience.



The lab is very cool. Marissa was very kind and gave me a tour of the facility and introduced me to this little dude, a 2 year old BABY LOBSTER, who is still so tiny. I also learnt that these blue lobsters are1 in a million.



In the afternoon I had time for a visit to the Museum of Science in Boston. It's a huge science centre, and is really impressive. Like most science centre's it's aimed at children and families but the exhibits here are really great even if you are there on your own.

It's home to the worlds largest indoor Van der Graaff generator. Unfortunately I was too late to see the electricity show so I just took a selfie. I have heard that the electricity show has been shared via their snapchat account. Snapchat appears to be the social media of choice for science centres and museums at the moment.




I had a great time in the Theater of Electricity and loved their interactive exhibition on Mathematics. 



I wish I had a bit more time to explore the museum! I got a little carried away/overexcited making some videos for vine (short, 6 second loops)

You can keep up with the Museum of Science online and I've heard they have a great snapchat account.

Next stop on my tour is Harvard where I will be looking at how universities manage social media output of their staff and researchers.

This June I am undertaking a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to look at the communication of science via social media. I will be traveling to North America and I am looking to connect with people as I go. You can read more about it here.





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