Communicating the wonder and joy of science

"Wake up, wake up!" My father shook me gently and indicated to follow him into the living room early in the morning July 1969. There in a remote town in central Africa, a group of people were gathered around a radio avidly listening. "Listen, remember this moment the rest of your life," Dad said, "Man is landing on the moon right now."

Well, I certainly did remember that moment for the rest of my life. I confess I do not remember the actual radio broadcast, but I do remember my father's exhortation. He was a science teacher and Africa was our playground. I remember expeditions along remote rivers to map their courses, long forest treks following the trails of army ants, exploring sand banks on the Zambesi to prospect for diamonds, gazing at an endless panoply of stars on a moonless night on a beach on the shores of Lake Malawi. And Dad used science put all of this adventure into perspective. So the seed of my fascination for science was planted.

What I didn't realize back then was that moment of people landing on the moon represented the pinnacle of human technological achievement and, for me (as a Brit), all that was good and great about America. And it fired the imagination and enthusiasm of a generation of kids like me. How I dreamed of being part of that spirit of exploration! How enthralling were the wonders and mysteries of science, and how inspiring was the human quest to reveal the unknown.

So I undertook a career in science, from my academic studies including my graduate research and later on a mission, through a career as a science communicator, to share the wonder and joy I had felt at that moment when humans first landed on the moon, not to mention during my adventures in Africa. In a way, science was just an extension of my exploring. What new discoveries lay around the corner?

I had the opportunity a few years back, while working with Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, to lead their initiative to develop science outreach through science cafes working with folks at WGBH Boston. These are a great way to connect with the public by taking the conversation to where people are already chatting about work, the weather, their other halves -- just everyday things.

So it was that I came across the idea of science festivals, since the first science festival in the US was held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just over the river from Boston and home to MIT and other organizations that were leading outreach to the public.

"Wow. This is a great opportunity for the Triangle," I thought. So began the idea of a Triangle Science Festival. Since that first thought in 2008, we have worked to bring together scientists, science educators and communicators under a common roof. We all share the same goal -- to communicate our love of science, and a passion for knowledge and discovery -- the very quests that took us to the moon back in 1969 and which will take us there and beyond.

--written by Roger Harris Executive Director, Triangle Science Festival


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Some years ago there was a story in Life magazine about a lady who had been in astronaut training, a program which was dropped because of pressure from male astronauts. She ended up in South America, flying for Jungle Air or some similar missionary air transport organization. She became good friends with a particular Indian village. When she learned of the moon landings, she was all excited and went to tell her Indian friends. They were not particularly impressed, because, they said, our Shaman goes there all the time.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 06 Mar 2010 #permalink

That's an amazing story. It's a shame you can't remember the broadcast. Though, I suppose that depends a great deal on your age at the time.