Getting with the Naked Scientists

14th January, 2010

After about a month  hiatus of science engagement tourism, last week Friday, after downloading my Christmas photos, I took out my dusty notepad, and took a short walk to where science meets entertainment! If there is one group of people who know how to make science, fun and exciting – it is the Naked Scientists. Yes, truth be told that I am fan and saying that does not make me a geek! I was very lucky to have a chat with Dr.Chris Smith founder and editor of the Naked Scientists. For those of you who are less informed on such goings on, the Naked Scientists produce a series of audience-interactive radio programmes and webpages which increase public awareness and stimulate debate about science. Their programs are aired on BBC and Channel Africa  and are available as downloadable webcasts. The shows contain a digest of science news, answers to science questions from listeners, interactive “kitchen science” experiments,  and an interview with two or more guest scientists.  They produce programs that appeal to a broad range of ages from adults to children.

I was particularly intrigued as to whether they had any feedback from the audience who listen to Channel Africa. How many people listen? What do people have to say ? Do they like it? But unfortunately no such evaluation has been done so if there any listeners out there in Africa who have tuned into the program, the Naked Scientists would love to hear from you!

Staying with science in Africa, Chris mentioned how impressed he was with the children who attended  Scifest Africa  (sorry pet peeve, I think it should be called Scifest SOUTH Africa as it is a national event, and I underline national NOT international). He said that even after a long hot ride in a minibus, children were well behaved and anxious to soak up the science. This I attribute to the lack of exposure to science, children in Africa get outside of school and while in schools, science is frankly….. quite dull. (In her head Muza silently blames the teachers).

The success of the Naked Scientist (it is an award winning program) can be attributed to not only their dedication to making science fun but being one of the first to have free audio and visual content on the internet in  2001 and ensuring a good quality production from the word go, this all helped them gather a loyal audience.

So what did I learn?

  • Invest in equipment that will give you a good quality production no matter the expense
  • Whatever you do make it unique – make it stand out from the rest, don’t reinvent the wheel unless you are going to make a better wheel
  • You must plant the seed of scientific wonder in children when they young – age 10
  • Have something for both young and old so that everyone is learning – think of it as a family activity
  • You don’t have to dumb down the science to make it fun
  • Dont take things out of context otherwise you will build a bad reputation with scientists – also related to the point above
  • There are advantages to not having a “commercial” sponsor – people will regard you as impartial and trusted, you can choose what to air, however you need to think creatively about financial sustainability

There is so much interesting science happening out there, so I challenge radio broadcasters in Africa for a change don’t not talk about  local politics or the new JayZ album put some science in the show because trust me when I say there is a whole public out there that is thirsty for knowledge. If you short of content get in touch with the Naked Scientists as they happy to share.  Whilst any would be science enthusiasts why not try one of the Naked Scientists Experiments like making a shelless egg or a DIY potato gun.

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