What happens if you ask a child, “Hey, do you want to talk to a scientist?”
That question drove science writer Jennifer Cutraro to develop Science Storytellers, a public engagement program that aims to sit children down to interview scientists, just like professional journalists do—and then to share their science stories. Jenny wondered: Would the chance to interview a scientist make kids’ eyes light up? Or would they mumble, “Um, no thanks,” and drift away?
To find out, Cutraro invited The Open Notebook to partner with her at the Family Science Days event in Boston in 2017, held as part of the AAAS annual meeting. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which also supports TON’s early-career fellowship program, offered generous seed funding to cover the design and production of booth materials.
Science Storytellers stocked its booth not with gadgets or swag, but with human beings: scientists who’d volunteered their time for an hour or two, and science writers who’d likewise offered to lend a hand, helping ease kids into conversations with scientists and offering gentle interview coaching when needed.
There was no need to worry whether kids would want to talk to scientists. The booth was flooded. Over two days, some 400 kids sat down and had conversations with scientists—conversations that lasted 15, 30, sometimes 45 minutes. We had to pull chairs from other booths to accommodate all the kids who wanted to talk with our scientist volunteers. We had kids who, after meeting a scientist on the first day, begged their parents to bring them back on the second day to meet more scientists. We had scientists who volunteered for a one-hour shift and stayed for five hours. We overheard conversations that gave us chills.
As simple as the idea for the booth seemed, it powerfully demonstrated kids’ appetite for understanding science and scientists in a more personal, individual way—and scientists’ appetite for opening channels of communication with the young people upon whom the future of science will depend.
This year marks our third at AAAS’s Family Science Days. We’ll be there on Saturday and Sunday, February 16 and 17, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC.