Speakable Sciences

Journalist: Frances Wilkinson | Editor: Anjali Boyd | Photographer: Margaret Balliet


Scientific outreach is an umbrella term for the plethora of activities put on by universities, museums, and other scientific institutions to educate the general public on scientific topics and issues. These activities range from Keynote presentations on climate change to engaging middle school students in shark dissection to discussing Nobel prizes over brunch. The public’s awareness of and engagement in the scientific community are what keep science alive; without public concern, issues lack the exposure and momentum they need to catalyze change and brilliant breakthroughs are lost before they’re able to form fully.

Blaide Woodburn ’17 and Daniel Chapman ’17 are well aware of this. The two seniors decided to start Eckerd’s own Science Outreach Club (SOC) to get the campus community on board with the idea of outreach as well. “We wanted to make a club that would try and bridge the gap between the public’s perception of scientific research and what’s actually going on in scientific research.” said Chapman.

The club’s mission is to educate the Eckerd community about the latest and greatest achievements in the STEM fields through presentations. Eventually, they want to expand into the greater St. Pete community , but for now, their main focus is on Eckerd’s inhabitants.

“We plan to get the Eckerd community involved and understanding the latest developments in the STEM field.” Woodburn said. “So for example, CRISPR/Cas9, genome editing, we want that to be very accessible to the public. But the next step is going out into the greater St. Petersburg area and doing scientific outreach in that way,”

The club is eager to get people to share scientific knowledge and to help keep others informed on the latest news in science. In order to do that, their monthly meetings also serve as a low-stress environment where students can practice their public speaking skills.

“The goal of this club is to promote people in speaking about science in an accessible way.” Woodburn said. “It’s not just going to Dr. [Liza] Conrad and Dr. [Lisa] Bonner and Dan and I giving all the presentations. We want people to come in and feel comfortable talking to the general public about science, so that’s a skill we’re trying to hone in on.”

Their main event this semester will be a Nobel Brunch with members of The Academy of Senior Professionals at Eckerd College (ASPEC). The club will discuss the most recent Nobel prizes in science and facilitate a conversation on where the attendees see science taking these accomplishments in the future. The biggest challenge to the event will be to unpack the more technical scientific lingo in a thorough way that doesn’t compromise the overall meaning. “Nobody is going to be excited about something they can’t understand. You can go on Pubmed and search cancer and a million things will pop up, but if you run into a bunch of science jargon, you’re going to get discouraged,” Woodburn said. “We want to make science accessible so anybody can be interested in science.”

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If you attend a SOC meeting, you’ll notice Chapman and Woodburn in some very colorful ankle attire. The founding members wanted to add a little flair to each meeting, and their hope is to have the crazy socks become the trademark of the club. The socks also serve as a reminder to the members that the sciences (and socks) don’t have to be dull and incomprehensible.

“The club is open to all majors.” explains Woodburn. “If you come to these meetings, but you're not a science major, and you're learning about science, that's going to help do exactly what we set out to do. This is definitely not a club for just science majors.”

Want to stay up-to-date or get involved? Email Blaide Woodburn or Daniel Chapman for more information.