Seeing the Light: Science Communication and Art

Margaret Wegener, Samantha Littley

Abstract


A collaboration connecting a university’s Physics teaching and its art museum’s exhibition program has demonstrated the value of such partnerships. In the context of an upsurge in transdisciplinary art practice, and the need for scientists to develop skills in communicating science to non-specialists, a curator and a physicist implemented an innovative learning and assessment activity associated with a significant exhibition of contemporary art. Third-year physics students were tasked with selecting an artwork from the exhibition and explaining the physics in it to gallery visitors, via a short piece of writing. A selection of the best student-authored texts was displayed in the exhibition alongside the usual curatorial labels. In preparing for the task, students were given instruction and practice in writing about science for non-scientists, and provided with information about the artworks and the exhibition. The students’ writing enriched the visitor experience by establishing links between art and science. Students saw their science in a new context. The nature of this activity as an authentic task with a genuine reward – the opportunity for public, professional output – had a positive effect on student engagement with science communication. We discuss the impact of the activity and the transferability of the strategies used.

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