David goes Stateside to spread science busking

by David Price

In October 2014, it was my great privilege to attend the ASTC conference in Durham, North Carolina. ASTC (Association of Science Technology Centres) is a huge science communication conference with over 2000 delegates in attendance, from the USA and all over the world.

My mission, with Paul Taylor from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, was to run a session about that wonderful collection of highly effective science communication techniques called science busking.

David Price meets Steve Spangler! CC-BY science made simple

David Price meets Steve Spangler! CC-BY science made simple

Also (I must admit) it was a chance to meet one of my all time idols in science communication, Steve Spangler, one of the most well known and respected science communicators on the planet!

First up was a session by Steve Spangler and Eddie Goldstein.  It was very well attended, and it was fabulous!  Lots of really good advice garnered from a lifetime in science communication.

My key insight from Steve’s session:

Steve and Eddie stressed that no matter how long you have been in science communication, no matter how new or well known you are in the sector, that proficient performances come from good preparation. (Steve now has a full time PA whose, job it is to look after this for him.) Understanding the needs of your audience and attempting to meet their needs should be the first principle of your material, and PRACTISING – giving yourself time to get good.

3 tips from Steve and Eddie

1. Always use amplification (a microphone) if you have the chance to do so (makes you look more professional and people at the back get to hear you!)

2. Pre-select your volunteers before the start of your activity/show (why take the chance of not doing this and then failing to get the very most out of your volunteering opportunities?)

3. Go to any lengths to collect feedback about your material, and then act on it!

Then, Paul and myself started to get nervous as to whether anyone would come to out session.  Getting a full house is one thing if you are the famous Mr Spangler, quite another if you are two very earnest (but maybe lesser known) science communication professionals.  We need not have worried, our session was full to bursting with very enthusiastic delegates (including Steve Spangler himself!).

I really hope that a great time was had by all, as Paul and myself looked at the importance of play in experiencing our world, and, how science busking takes this importance of play and ruthlessly exploits it in the name of science.

My session: Spectacle, Humour and Performance Techniques in STEM education

Paul and I focussed our busking session on play. By bringing along demonstrations and routines from our busking material, we hoped to give the delegates insights into allying science and play.
By launching these cups, discover why they rise in the air. CC-BY science made simple

By launching these cups, discover about air pressure, and why they rise in the air. CC-BY science made simple

For example, when you sit on a partially inflated  balloon and it does not pop (we got just about everyone in the session to do this), most people find this surprising, or funny or slightly scary (or indeed all 3), and this gives us a great attention gathering device with which to engage audiences and discuss with them some of the science (force distribution and insulation) that they just subjected themselves to.  Of course some of the balloons go pop –  making a noise and even more of a spectacle / a reason for science related mirth and inspiration and allowing you discuss another topic, sound.

Paul held the attention of delegates by inflating a huge balloon with carbon dioxide gas sublimating from dry ice contained in a pop bottle. Will it explode?  When will it explode? When will it….? BANG! Why? What happened?

There was also the chance to sit on the second largest whoopee cushion in the world and think about the science behind what happens as a result.


We combined all of the above with the effectiveness of appropriate eye contact, body language, volunteer gathering techniques and tips on where to site your science busking endeavours.

If this has whetted your appetite for science busking then please do have a look at our award winning busking and busking training services.

The video below is about people’s favourite things about the conference – listen to the first person describe one of my favourite busking demonstrations!

The three key points I took away from the conference were:

1. Science communicators are as open, friendly and enthusiastic on one side of the Atlantic as they are on the other

2. Not withstanding the huge size and variety of circumstances in which science communication takes place in the USA, it was very comforting to find a similar quest for quality of provision, effective evaluation and the search for relevancy to chosen audiences as can be seen in the European science communication community.

3. On a personal note, I had wondered whether US science communication professionals would ‘get’ science busking, and see its real potential for engaging diverse audiences (beyond a bald guy in shorts and a red  T-shirt being very enthusiastic indeed about busking!) with an inspirational stickiness for science.  They really did.


Thanks again to all the amazing delegates who attended the conference last year, to Paul Taylor who donated to me his 1st prize from the ASTC lottery (accommodation and registration fees!) and to brilliant funding from the Welsh Government Trade and Investment team.

Who’s Who?

David Price @ScienceBusker
Paul Taylor @Philazoo
Steve Spangler @SpanglerScience
science made simple @scimadesimple


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