Science Communication Week brings big ideas, research to K-State

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Joe Palca speaks about Avoiding Controversy When Covering Controversial Science at the Tallgrass Tap House for the Science MHK NPR event, in Manhattan, Kan. on Nov. 8, 2017. (Photo by Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State and local Manhattan partners organized a Science Communication Week devoted to engage scientists, researchers and the public in science and communication from Nov. 6 to 11.

Science Communication Week is part of the Kansas Science Communication Initiative organized by K-State, Sunset Zoo, Flint Hills Discovery Center and other community partners.

Presentations included research and development showcases, discussions of scientific controversies and the use of alternative communication methods.

Sarah Hancock, leader and communication coordinator for the KSCI, said the week’s events aimed to convey the impact of scientists’ work to the general public.

“I think we have engaged faculty and student researchers at K-State who truly want to connect with the general public,” Hancock said. “We’ve been doing it forever because that’s our heritage as a land-grant institution.”

Hancock said the rhetoric of Science Communication Week was designed to explain the importance of research and clarify scientific miscommunication.

“Out in the national arena, a big example of bad science communication would be how GMOs are being handled, or climate change,” Hancock said. “We have people emotionally attached to information that is not scientifically based, and maybe it’s because we weren’t doing enough to properly communicate those topics. It left openings for people with inaccurate information to put out the wrong information.”

NPR science correspondents Joe Palca and Maddie Sofia, National Geographic photographer Jim Richardson and several K-State and community groups were involved with the week’s events.

Palca and Sofia held workshops over controversial scientific topics, including the media’s role in science and miscommunication over politically or socially sensitive issues.

“I believe very passionately that people should have arguments over what to do about climate change,” Palca said. “We have to decide what kind of scientifically literate society we should live in, but the public shouldn’t pretend that the science is unclear.”

Some of the presentations emphasized visual storytelling with scientific research. Hancock said art and visual messages can communicate emotions and ideas that papers and data struggle to clarify.

Valentina Trinetta, assistant professor in food safety and food microbiology, presented “agar art” at the library scholarship expo. Agar art is a form of art that creates images by growing microorganisms in specific patterns.

Trinetta and her research team also gave a presentation on how bacteria, yeasts, molds and other microbes are associated with foods and food processing.

“I think that a lot of times, scientists get trapped in their labs with formulas and reactions,” Trinetta said. “Sharing information with the public is, therefore, slow and difficult. Integrating scientific results with communication is fundamental to give a stronger understanding of the current research, and moreover, increase science relevance in society.”

Nicole Green, organizer for Science Communication Week and graduate student in biochemistry, said the camaraderie among interdisciplinary groups created an opportunity for many researchers to engage with new people and ideas.

“I think all the participation from various groups at K-State and Manhattan really opened our eyes to the possibility that we could come together as one group and spread this positive message of science communication,” Green said.

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News and Science Writer for the Collegian. Senior in Food Science with a Minor in Mass Communications from Topeka, Kansas. Graphic and Video Design. I cook … a lot.