All posts by Jonathan Sanderson

Science film-maker, writer, director and consultant.

Helping teachers do what they do best

While this blog continues to explore the boundaries and overlaps between teaching, learning, communication and performance, some of you have more specific needs. While we wring our hands about structuring demonstrations, you want proper training.

Firstly – do get in touch. The people you’re reading here do lots of training and directing of performers, bits of writing and consultancy, and workshops with teachers. People ask us back and everything.

For more formal CPD do find out what’s on offer from the Science Learning Centres. It’s what they’re there for, as this blog post from Yvonne Baker describes. In that post, she outlines some of the CPD available from the National Science Learning Centre. It may be cheaper than you expect, too.

Coming full-circle and in reference to the wider issues Yvonne mentions, if you’re following the A-level practical exam thing you may be interested in Alom’s take on the matter here.

Identity and the structure of argument

Maria Konnikova has a terrific article in the New Yorker which should be required reading for anyone involved in science communication. It’s a quick overview of recent research into what sorts of messages ‘land’ with an audience and actually impact their thinking.

“The goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds.

The result was dramatic: a whole lot of nothing. None of the interventions worked.”

Continue reading Identity and the structure of argument

Ghost Peloton

For reasons which I suspect have more to do with wrangling Provinces than anything else, the Tour de France traditionally starts in another country entirely. This year: Yorkshire (which is a country, yes. Obviously).

To kick off the celebrations marking the event, this weekend saw a mad spectacle of an arts performance, Ghost Peloton. 36 illuminated riders choreographed to a backdrop of music and a film featuring more cyclists and dancers. It was glorious. You missed it, sorry.

Continue reading Ghost Peloton

Chemistry Champions Challenge

One for our US readers: the American Chemical Society is launching a “Chemistry Champions” search for chemists who excel at performance and communication.

I’ve a bunch of concerns about the competition (judging by number of YouTube views? Really?). Also, their suggested two minutes to talk about your research is an extremely awkward duration – 2:30 is a great length, but 2:00 is on a difficult cusp. My advice to anyone entering would be: write something stellar that’s 90 seconds long. Two minutes will encourage you to try for too many ideas which you won’t, in the end, be able to cram in, so do one thing well, even if it’s shorter.

Anyway, this launch video is terrific. Endearingly low production values show that a great performance shines through regardless, which is exactly the message of the competition. It’s very well judged.

More details and rules on the ACS website. Deadline for submissions is 6th June. #chemchamps


I threw this together last night to try out an arrangement for a practical demo Elin is planning to build for a new show at the Centre for Life. I thought it might find wider use than just us sitting on the sofa saying “Coo!”. To be fair, it already has found wider use: Rosy from Cambridge Science Centre is staying with us, and was also saying “Coo!”.

One of the things that’s rather hard to wrap your head around when looking at waves in water is that the individual bits of water don’t translate with the wave propagation. Which rather obviously has to be the case once you realise you’ve been staring at the waves coming towards you for quite some time and yet the sea (tides permitting) hasn’t swept you away. Nevertheless, it’s one of those situations where a diagram helps, and an animated diagram helps a lot.

So here’s that animated diagram. For anyone who cares about such things, I built this in Apple Motion: it’s one (rotating) object, replicated with a rotation shift, which makes it very easy to play with different arrangements. It’s particularly interesting when the movement discs overlap. Maybe I’ll build another animation of that…

Anyway, you’re welcome to use the clip, though you’ll want to download and use this high-definition version (3Mb .mov, right-click and ’Save target as…’, and all that). It should loop smoothly enough.

Treatment, demonstrations, and complexity

Vikki Burns was one of this year’s FameLab UK finalists. In this film, she describes her experience of drying on stage during the final, and what happened next. It’s a terrific, brave, positive film, and I’m hugely impressed with Vikki for saying what she does here. If you’re an academic thinking about entering FameLab, or of taking part in Bright Club or Science Showoff or the like, watching this film might reassure you that audiences are lovely.

It’s worth watching right through, though, because in some ways the second half of the film is even more useful. It’s Vikki’s final piece from FameLab. Get past the inevitably-artificial feel of watching a performance crafted for a stage being delivered to the unblinking gaze of a video camera, and I think the piece is instructive.

Continue reading Treatment, demonstrations, and complexity

25 years of science communication progress

At last week’s Science Communication Conference, I joined a plenary panel to discuss what’s changed in the 12 years the conference has been running. I’ve been kicking around in the sector for more like 25 years so I played a bit fast and loose with the timescale, but my little spot in the limelight went more-or-less as follows:

Continue reading 25 years of science communication progress

Is Mirobot the droid we’ve been looking for?

In the previous post I wrote about the challenge of catching and holding peoples’ attention with electronics and programming activities – if you’ve seen DEMO: The Movie you’ll know I’m quite big on attention.

The Arduino microcontroller platform is a terrific tool, but it’s hard to present a project which is both immediately appealing and instructive. Projects tend to be fun but complex, or useful-but-dry tutorials. As with many fields of life, I suspect the answer is: robots.

Frikkin’ robots.

Lots of robots.

Continue reading Is Mirobot the droid we’ve been looking for?