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Science Wise!

Amos Mann

"Hello everyone. Welcome to Science Wise! My name is Amos, I'm here from Otago Museum's Discovery World!"

Science Wise! was an interactive science performance produced by Otago Museum Discovery World, supported by the Science and Technology Promotion Fund and delivered free to the people of Otago. Aims of the project included promoting interest in science and technology and fostering an appreciation of the contributions science has made to the way we live and perceive the world.

I first got involved in science performance through the International Science Festival held in Dunedin in July 1998. Although really I have been communicating science since I was five or six years old. "The rings of Saturn are made of chunks of ice!" I would exuberantly proclaim to my parents and their friends. My friends and family well know me to jump at a chance to conjure in air the "shape" of a water molecule or to unveil the wonders of relativity.

I came to science communication with a working background weighted on the side of art and performance. My strong interest in the point where science meets art immediately attracted me to science performance. Science Wise! showed me just how powerful this meeting point can be.

The challenge was to produce a 20-30 minute interactive science performance to promote science to 8-12 year-olds and the general public. Spectacular demonstrations and experiments would definitely go down well, as would stickers and give-aways, but what would get people to reconsider science? What would motivate people to examine the role of science in our lives?

By the work of the amazing team here at Discovery World, and with great help and advice from Dr Lyall Hanton (Department of Chemistry) and Dr Don Warrington (Department of Physics) at the University of Otago, a jam-packed, dynamic performance was created.

"We are all scientists! We all do science every day! We all use our senses and our mind to find out about the world and what is going on in the whole universe!"
Science Wise! 1999

The tour had begun and we were quickly in full swing (up to six shows a day!). Travelling between school assemblies, adult learning centres, rest homes and malls, I soon realised the accessibility of Science Wise! and of the message I was bringing.

I found children and adults alike open to thinking about the universe and entertaining the questions: "Why do things fall?", "What is hot?", "What is cold?", "What am I made of?" -- questions most of us stop asking at a very early age. The process of introducing people to the possibility that there is more to learn about, more to discover and in fact we each discover more everyday, is very rewarding.

Science Wise! travelled throughout Otago, to such varied venues as shopping centres, regional museums, university campus, town centres, Lions, elderly citizens and social clubs, a Chamber of Commerce function, Dunedin Public Hospital, adult learning centres, youth groups, radio shows and many primary and intermediate schools.

I always found interested, thoughtful, and welcoming audiences who received Science Wise! with a healthy mix of wonder, humour and excitement. One hundred shows were performed to a total audience of 9,000.

Discussions of scientific interests and current events would often take place after a performance. Topics such as hydrogen-powered cars, reasons for ageing and spontaneous human combustion, were readily discussed. Teachers would often follow Science Wise! with a scientific experiment or activity. Audience members would tell me they felt empowered by the Science Wise! experience and motivated to take personal ownership of science.

I found the whole experience to be most valuable. As a performer I feel I have cut some teeth and learned a tremendous amount about performance. As a scientist I have gained a clear insight into the social and personal roles of science.

Science Wise! was able to blend the age-old ritual of performance with the inherent human trait of discovery to bring out the scientist within each of us.

Amos Mann is a Science Communicator at Otago Museum Discovery World.