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Out of the Lab – into the Spotlight

Whether in the form of Science Slam, Science goes Public, Wis­sen um 11, Forschungsmeile, or Explore Sci­ence – in Bremen, there are numerous meth­ods of science communication engaging a broad audience. What do they have in com­mon? It is often young researchers who are involved and communicating their subjects to the public in a comprehensible fashion. They agree on one thing: for them, publishing their own research is simply a part of every­day life in science. Anouk Vlug and Valentin Ludwig are two examples – they are work­ing on their doctorates as part of the Inter­national Research Training Group ArcTrain at the University of Bremen along with eight Canadian partner universities.

Anouk Vlug and Valentin Ludwig sitting with a beer in the pub.
Anouk Vlug and Valentin Ludwig bring research to the people.

Doctoral students in the ArcTrain program are working on various subjects at the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences of the University of Bremen as part of the Fac­ulties of Geosciences, Physics, and Electrical Engineering, as well as at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Mar­itime Research (AWI). They are involved in very different means of science communication; Valentin Ludwig has been on stage several times already. The Bremen Science Slam at the Kulturzentrum Lagerhaus in June 2017 was his first time speaking in front of a lay audience. In competition with other researchers, he gave an entertaining and comprehensible talk about the evaluation of satellite data in the Arctic, which is the subject of his doctoral thesis. His talk earned him rigorous applause from the audience. He made additional appearances at Science Slams in northern Germany and at the northern German championship in 2018.

Ludwig also recently gave it a go with Science goes Public, where researchers introduce their subjects to guests at the bars and pubs of Bre­men and Bremerhaven. He loves the interactive nature of this format. “After my lecture, peo­ple came up to me and asked some really good questions. They had a true understanding of what I do, which means a lot to me.”

 

Giving Science a Face

Valentin Ludwig at his workplace.
Valentin Ludwig studied oceanography and climate research in Hamburg. Now, as part of the Remote Sensing of Polar Regions research group, he is working on his doctorate at the Institute of Environmental Physics at the University of Bremen and is a member of the ArcTrain graduate program. The work of the 28-year-old involves the evaluation of satellite data in the Arctic.

It could be said that Ludwig is a “grizzled vet­eran” of science communication. Anouk Vlug wrote her first blog article at an ArcTrain conference. For this, the two researchers put together their own workshop on the subject of science communication. Vlug modeled glaciers in the Canadian Arctic on the computer. In her blog, she reported on her Arctic expedition on the Polarstern research ship and how she learned to avoid accidentally becoming polar bear food. “There are lots of people around me who want to know what I do,” says Vlug. “Using the blog, I can provide access to any­one who is interested. Now there is just a story online that they can read.” In the ArcTrain blog, her fellow doctoral candidates also provide insights into their lives in the world of research. They write about experiments, report on expe­ditions, or simply talk about themselves and their lives in order to give science a face.

Stories are the subject for the “Once Upon a Time” project as well – a project of the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences at the University of Bremen, which is also the work of graduate students in the Arc­Train program. They write short stories, fairy tales, and poems on scientific subjects that are intended for both children and adults. In these works, the researchers place the spotlight on climate change and the role of the seas and oceans, among other topics. They describe how humans discover changes in the climate and how we can use and protect bodies of water. The project received recognition from the “Meere und Ozeane” university competition in the 2016/2017 academic year.

Once upon a Time ... Short Stories abaout Seas and Oceans

Anouk Vlug works on her computer.
Anouk Vlug earned her bachelor’s degree in earth science from the University of Amsterdam, followed by her master’s degree in climate studies from Wageningen University. The graduate student is now part of the ArcTrain program and is involved in the Geosystem Modeling working group at the MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences. For her doctoral thesis, the 30-year-old is researching the effect of climate variability on the mass balance of glaciers in the Canadian Arctic.

It practically goes without saying that the ArcTrain project is also active on social media – be it a blog, a Facebook page, or on Twitter. The advantages are clear for Ludwig and Vlug: a presence on social media increases the odds that someone will happen upon their research and, ideally, will be enthused by it. Addition­ally, posts on Facebook or tweets can be writ­ten quickly. And this method of knowledge transfer is dynamic thanks to the ability to like these posts, to share them, or to engage in dia­logue with the audience through the comment function.

As Ludwig and Vlug see it, young research­ers should learn early on how to discuss their research outside of the university setting: “I think what we are doing is important,” says Ludwig. “And I think it’s important to tell peo­ple about it. If no one knows about what we do, then we might as well forget about it.” You don’t need much to get started. “Just give it a try – the fun will follow.”