In this edition

Quote of the month

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

— Steve Jobs


Welcome to our October 2014 newsletter: Communicating creatively

In this edition, we share some of our personal experiences of science being communicated creatively and we ponder ideas for the future as new technologies emerge.

We also welcome science writer Lisa Crane on board the team this month. Lisa has returned to her native Brisbane after a stint as a freelance writer in British Columbia, Canada.

Enjoy our tips and, as always, we’d love your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email us.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam:

Wear your heart on your sleeve

By Robbie Mitchell

We already communicate like peacocks through the way we dress. In the future, our clothes will communicate not just our favourite style, colours and patterns but also our thoughts and feelings.

E-textiles are fabrics with electronics woven into them.

There are fabrics that change colour and pattern, like a chameleon.

There are jackets that can sense that you are upset and play an audio message from your loved one to cheer you up.

How cool would it be if a doctor or a teacher wore a shirt that projected a real-time image of what is going on inside their body—a real-time cat-scan? I imagine them pointing to their shirt and explaining the different organs and how they are arranged in the body.

Tweet me your thoughts on how we might be able to use this technology to communicate science.

Text and sniff

By Robbie Mitchell

Smells are a primal sense that linger with us, good or bad.

They have also been the hardest sense to digitalise until now.

French research, art and design centre Le Laboratoire has created the oPhone, a mobile device that allows you to transmit a smell just like you would a text message.

I can think of several ways that we could use this technology to communicate science:

  • What does an archaeologist smell when they enter an ancient tomb?
  • What does the breath of a seal smell like?

Tweet me your thoughts on how we might be able to use this technology to communicate science.


Volcanic passion

By Jenni Metcalfe

The last time Mt Vesuvius erupted was in 1944, during the War, but it is best known for destroying the ancient city of Pompeii in AD 79.

What makes Vesuvio (as the Italians call it) the world’s most dangerous volcano is that scientists don’t know when it will erupt and 3 million people, including the residents of Naples, live very close by.

When I visited Vesuvio last week, the magma lying deep below the crater and the circling hills held little interest until, after a strenuous hike from the car park, I reached the volcano’s rim and met the Italian guide who greets English-speaking visitors.Vincenzo fascinated us all and suddenly I know so much more about Vesuvio.

How did he do this? He told stories—dramatically, and with many Neapolitan hand gestures—and showed us simple diagrams to explain some of the complexities and the history.

I was, unexpectedly, enthralled. Vincenzo made textbook science relevant and exciting to a group of tired tourists. And his enthusiasm was contagious.

My walk around the top crater was different and more informed because of him.

What I experienced was a wonderful example of creative, and simple, science communication that works.

A chance to wonder, without words

By Sarah Cole

The temptation to ‘educate’ when communicating science is perhaps just too tempting.

Often, fascinating stories with scientific aspects are accompanied by paragraph after paragraph of explanatory text.

I find stories can be much more intriguing when someone dares to leave the ‘lesson’ out.

Science Dump recently posted a series of photos and a video of a herd of elephants saving a baby elephant from drowning in a tumultuous river.

Unusually for a science news site, the post had little text—only one short paragraph.

It was a chance to wonder about the story, to see and figure out for myself how the elephants rescued the calf.

I found this simplicity refreshing. The creativity, in this case, was to minimise explanation and maximise curiosity.


Creatively conned in Kenya

By Mary O’Callaghan

On the journey from Nairobi to my destination at Ol Pejeta Conservancy, we pulled over just outside the town of Nanyuki, near the base of Mt Kenya, to stretch our legs.

As it happens, we were right on the equator, or so the sign said,

As I took the obligatory photo of the sign, I was approached by a man carrying a plastic bucket and a funnel wanting to know whether I knew how water flowed down the drain at the equator.

I’m used to people from the northern hemisphere asking me whether the water really flows down the drain ‘the other way’ in Australia. But until now I had never considered this interesting question.

Suspicious, jetlagged and, yet, curious, I hesitated. ‘Come, we will walk 30 metres north of the equator’, he said.

I followed him into the northern hemisphere.

He strode out with great purpose and then, with a flourish, turned and began his experiment, pouring water from the bucket into the funnel, blocking the funnel hole with his finger until he was sure he had my full attention, then releasing it.

We marvelled at how the water spiralled downwards, the spiral as obvious as the grooves on a steel drill bit.

To demonstrate the direction, he placed a matchstick in the funnel. Sure enough, it floated gently anticlockwise.

Onwards to a spot 30 metres south of the equator, where he repeated the experiment, with the same high level of enthusiasm.

I watched the water spiral downwards and the matchstick float in a clockwise direction.

His voice rising now with anticipation, as if he were about to perform this experiment for the first time in his life, he marched me back to the equator and filled the funnel for the third time.

‘Do you see? Do you see?’, he cried. ‘No spiral!’.

I saw. The water flowed down in a straight column, no grooves whatsoever. He placed the match in the funnel and, after a wobbly start, it seemed to settle.

We agreed on 200 schillings (about $2.50) and parted ways, both satisfied.

Another sucker, you might say. And you’d be right.

My research now reveals that the Coriolis effect, caused by the Earth’s rotation, does help to set the direction of cyclones, except at the equator where it is too weak. But it is too weak to have any effect on a body of water as small as a sink or a household funnel.

The shape of your sink has more to do with the direction of the water than the hemisphere you are in.

The Nanyuki science communicator, it seems, poured the water into the funnel in a certain way or swirled it in the funnel to get the desired effect, without my knowing.

A creative con. But, hey,what price enlightenment?