When soil and swing collide: science at the Big Band Big Lunch

On Sunday (3 June) the University brought together staff, students, and people in Reading for the Big Band Big Lunch. Jeremy Le Lean, communications officer of the Soil Security Programme, explains that research, like jazz, is often best with a live audience.

As a science communicator I attend a lot of events, but not many like the University of Reading’s Big Band Big Lunch. The music and street food vendors gave it more the feeling of carnival rather than science engagement.

I work to make sure that the excellent research being carried out through the Soil Security Programme, which is headquartered at Reading, gets heard about. This means making complex scientific ideas accessible to people in many ways, whether they are finding out about it online, face-to-face, or any other way.

The Soil Security Programme was here showcasing how soil works and the benefits it delivers to society with exhibits to explore the A, B, C of soil: exploring the Architecture, Biology and Chemistry of soil.  In the process we show that soil is much more than just dirt, even though it sometimes gets treated that way.

Other than excellent barbecue food and great music, what did the Big Band Big Lunch deliver? Communicating science is important for many reasons. We can talk about the research impact agenda, or the importance of exploring science and engaging with the public – who are, after all, the people who pay for it.

Personally, I do it to see those ‘I get it!’ moments on people’s faces. I saw a few of these at the Big Band Big Lunch, none more so than when explaining the fact that there are more living things in a single teaspoon of soil that there are people on the planet.  The look of disbelief, followed by dawning understanding, is why I like my job so much. It’s the joy of communicating science.

The informal atmosphere of the Big Band Big Lunch was a great help with this. Most people don’t meet scientists every day. Some may tend to think of things like ‘chemistry’ as purely a classroom subject. I always try to personalise the experience, introduce myself and tell an anecdote or story about science.  Then it’s all about making the science relevant to everyday life: why is it important?  And of course, the experience should be as interactive as possible.

Thanks to everyone who made it possible: our enthusiastic volunteers, the musicians (who performed throughout the hot weather!), and Anastasia Perrett of the Events Team for the invitation to take part.

 

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