Science outreach - Public Understanding of Science
Hannah Alexander, Adjunct Associate Professor, Division of Biological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO 65211
Public Understanding of Science is an interactive course that aims to train students to communicate science to the public in an understandable and inviting fashion. We aim to combine the increase of the students' love for science with an increase in their sense of duty to bring science to the public. Thus, our approach is two fold: to train the students to communicate science, and to generate opportunities for the students to actually practice their newly acquired skills.
The course has a significant interdisciplinary component, through the choice of topics, the interaction with faculty mentors from different disciplines, and the fact that the class consists of students from different departments. More importantly, in demonstrating how basic science results in tangible advances to our daily lives, the students have to explore a topic from many different science disciplines. For example, we owe our ability to undergo corrective eye surgery to physicist who studies lenses, physicists who studies laser, anatomists, neurobiologists, physicians who studies the eye and the eye/brain interaction and so on. By bringing these topics to the public the students increase the public's understanding of the nature of and need for basic science. Moreover, it develops in the students a sense of civic engagement, and a responsibility that we believe all scientists should share: to explain to the public the importance of science in our society. In the past several years, students generated 35 different presentations, and have given over 110 presentations to adult audiences in the community.