This thing called life

This thing called life

Are you psyched for Science Week? If not, read this

Cooking up some scientific cocktails might be a good activity for science week, but can we try this at home? Flickr/the_exploratorium

This is National Science Week in Australia. I know this because I am a scientist who lives with a science teacher, so we have conversations like , “What are you going to do for science week?” “Oh, gosh, I dunno, what are YOU going to do?” We love science and all our friends are scientists and even we aren’t sure what science week is all about.

I am guessing that more people got excited about shark week the week before, which is just endless documentaries about sharks on pay TV. You would think that celebrating a whole branch of human endeavour would be more interesting, but I am afraid that it isn’t.

More importantly, you know what you are getting for shark week. If you have pay TV you get a chance to watch sharks anytime, night or day, but only for one week.

What do you get for science week? Basically, geeks use it as an excuse to run activities at school or University. Sometimes it is heaps of fun, as indicated by this article written by an excited scientist last year.

On our campus we started science week yesterday with a Brain Break morning tea. The quiz was the highlight, which was fine but also a worry. If science week is about getting people who don’t normally think about science engaged, then we are failing. People who are not into science are not going to get excited about a quiz.

People probably get more exposure to science during shark week. But shark week is over and science week is here. My job as a scientist and columnist and educator is to reach out, to inspire.

My department is hosting a science cooking competition on Thursday. Everyone involved has already chosen to study science at University. You can tell they are a unique demographic, because when I told them the prizes would be lame, they cheered. Clearly, science week is an excuse to play with other scientists.

But what does science week mean for everybody else?

More importantly, what should it be? Can we come up with a simple, engaging, (and hopefully lame) thing to do to celebrate science?

I would love to hear your views, so please use the comments section below. I hope they are more insightful than the ones I received recently from a workshop with secondary students. When asked for suggestions to improve the activity, several of them wrote, “blow shit up.”

Which reminds me to mention that science is not synonymous with Mythbusters. The myth they seem to have most successfully sold is the one that says big explosions are a harmless way to have fun.

This cannot be further from the truth. Just watch this video of Robert Oppenheimer, talking about how he felt about inventing the first nuclear weapon. He is actually crying as he described how it brought to mind the end of the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Science is not just here to surprise and shock us. It has a more fundamental role in the world. I think it is even cooler than sharks, but I am probably in a minority on that one.