Europhysics Fun 2013

By Simon Jones and Zoë Gamble

 

We’ve just returned from a week in Germany at the Europhysics Fun science communication conference. As the only UK attendees this year, we thought we should write about what the project is, what we got up to, and what we learnt from our experience. Now, where to begin…!

Just how electrically conductive are science communicators? Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

Europhysics is an opportunity for various physics communication groups to come together and share ideas, whether they are current students, museum curators, or like us, professional outreach communicators. This year we worked with representatives from the likes of Iceland, Ukraine, Denmark, The Netherlands, Portugal, and of course, Germany. The conference primarily revolves around the sharing of ideas; be that on different experiments and how to perform them, or with styles of presenting and various ways to engage audiences. We decided to take our Music To Your Ears show, to demonstrate how we explain sound waves and music to younger audiences. In order to really show the conference what we do, we asked the whole room to pretend to be 9 year olds, which they all willingly embraced!

We flew out on a blustery Monday morning, packed with our show equipment. Our destination was Göttingen, a self-proclaimed ‘city of science’ situated in the centre of Germany. We reached the conference in tact, and even made some successful German conversation on the way. The conference formed part of our professional development as communicators, which science made simple invest in to expand our horizons.

Some of the fascinating equipment we got our hands on. Here’s a Van der Graff generator in action. Photo: science made simple (CC-BY-NC)

While most of our mornings were spent watching others perform and talk about their shows, there were also a variety of activites designed to improve certain elements of science shows. In one notable example, the Feuerwehr (fire brigade) visited and gave us the opportunity to try out different types of fire extinguisher, so we’d know how to use them in different situations.  Which, as we’d never tried before, was actually pretty good fun. It’s useful to know but hopefully not something we’ll need in any of our shows! As well as this, we had a theatre skills workshop where we tried improv games and motion techniques, and we also visited the design headquarters of Phywe, who manufacture a variety of high-tech laboratory equipment. Here we were allowed to undertake our own complicated procedures, such as X-rays, laser diffraction, and the separation of hydrogen and oxygen from water.

Put your hands in the air and make a vibration! We demonstrate our music show to the European delegates. Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

So what did practical things did we take away from our experience? The first thing to note is that many of the physics shows we saw apply more grand scale spectacle than us, often with explosions and fire. This is in part as they often perform to large public audiences, whereas science made simple’s shows tend to focus on interesting methods of explaining particular concepts with both very simple props and sophisticated equipment. A lot of the other communicators we saw also work using surprising and entertaining chemical reactions; some of which we use, but others were totally new to us.

One of the most prominent and memorable shows was Die Physikanten public show. This show, hosted by the world renowned Markus Weber and presented to a thousand strong audience (in German!). We really got a sense the presenters had mastered how to perform science comedy and interact with their audience. Plus they made gigantic smoke rings which they fired into us, always a winner with children, adults, and science communicators alike.

The Europhysics Gang of 2013. Photo: science made simple (All Rights Reserved)

On our last day we were invited to see the Phaeno science museum in Wolfsburg. It was a great way to end our trip and, if we’re honest, a chance to have a play with the wonders of what science can show off! And so it was we made our way back  to Cardiff through the Germany countryside.

The Europhysics Fun conference is held annually in different locations across Europe. Next year it’ll be in at Danfoss Universe science discovery centre in Denmark. So if you’re a budding science communicator, and you fancy brushing up on your danske, then we would thoroughly recommend Europhysics Fun 2014!

 

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