Cassie Rodenberg: Electron-ic Bonds

Put down your microscope and pen; go out into the light.
January 7, 2009, 11:06 am
Filed under: Musings, Science, Writing

I am a writer. Writers are good at imagining, at playing make believe, at instinctively knowing the reader’s likes and dislikes. But how do readers view science firsthand? After immersing myself in written science, hunched over my desk, twirling a molecular model, I wanted to see the public’s immediate reaction to science; would it fizzle? Was it explosive? What did science look like to them? As I said in a previous blog, a science writer’s job is to connect the public with science…but how about a direct connection between the common man and science? Did it exist? Could I be a part of it?

To find out, I became an In-House Education Presenter at Discovery Place science museum in Charlotte, NC, working to “ignite wonder” into the public’s perception of science. From chemistry demonstrations to animal shows to acting workshops, I did it all. I held my own in the Jungle Show, juggling a Madagascar hissing cockroach and red-tailed boa while discussing rainforest destruction; I spoke of medicinal practices in 79 A.D. Pompeii, dressed as a noblewoman of the time; I trained rats to play basketball while introducing the concepts of psychology and positive reinforcement.

Here, I watched science dazzle audiences, lull them, move them; I saw, first-hand, the way a snake could make an eight-year-old boy take an oath to recycle, the way a fizzing vial could entrance a mother, captivating her enough to permit science experiments at home.

The museum made science real the way no other means could; science was made “cool.” I knew, from then on, I had to be a Pompeiian noblewoman in everything I wrote, intriguing readers by braiding a tale around science.

Perhaps science writers as a breed need the lesson, to remember public perception. Is anything better than amazement? Indeed not. Go and sit with your moleskin and coffee in a science museum. Watch the children, and adults, exclaim over a new idea: dinosaurs with feathers!

Afterwards, write something. I bet you’ll find some feathers and scales that followed you home.


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