sharing experiences

Nancy Longnecker (Science Communication, UWA) had the difficult task of choosing from 6500 photographs to share with ASC-WA members and guests a “Science Communicator’s Travels in America”. Accompanied by her husband and daughter, her four month study leave trip started in New York, NY and drove along the East Coast with some side trips by air.

It was definitely a whirlwind tour, but Nancy focussed on highlights from a science communicator’s perspective accompanied by the geography (so we Australians knew where they went), and some shared special holidays with her family.

Nancy’s slides started in New York City with Times Square. I’m still not sure why this major intersection is a place to visit unless you want to see huge advertisements and lights. But, I recognise that it is considered a special part of the city.

Ground Zero is still a construction site, but it was Nancy’s comment about being able to see the sky that made me sit up and listen. I think this would worry me, as I have always been able to see the sky and can’t imagine being in a place where I can’t.

Nancy told us that the American Museum of Natural History is to go on our must visit list. A sample of photographs showed stuffed animals in natural poses in front of dioramas painted by professional artists. Looking at the pictures of dinosaurs, bears and elephants, you could see that everything was big, if not huge, and as Nancy commented, they were accompanied by good interpretation. For example, not just one elephant but a whole family of elephants. While looking at the photographs, I was hoping that museums can’t instigate the killing of a family of elephants any more.

Having done her PhD in Ithaca, New York, Nancy had lots of people to catch up with. They are involved in many different areas of science, including; the history of science communication, writing for the media, museums, media content analysis, and risk management.

Nancy is interested in informal science communication and how volunteers share their expertise, and said that Cornell Plantations, is similar to Perth’s Kings Park and Botanic Garden in this way.

Nanotechnology displays at the Ithaca Sciencentre included a tent representing a drop blood that contained red balls (red blood cells), and a white shower scrunchy (white blood cell). It looked like the ball-room that I have seen at some IKEA shops, and it certainly looked as if Nancy’s daughter enjoyed this space. Nancy ‘stood’ inside a silicon crystal. The photograph looked pretty amazing.

At Cornell University Department of Entomology Insectapalooza undergraduates wear bright green T-shirts saying ‘please bug me’. As well as dead bugs though, the Smithsonian had sent live insects for the day.

Tongue-in-cheek, Nancy explained that she had to go all the way to Moosewood Restaurant, Ithaca to meet with Phil Dooley from UNSW School of Physics and ASC-NSW member.

In Washington, Nancy added the Smithsonian‘s National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of Natural History to our must see list.

North Carolina to visit an Uncle who was evacuated from New Orleans, then onto Sewanee, Tennessee where Nancy did her undergraduate degree. Nancy gave a talk on Australia, and four of her lecturers (two retired) attended to listen to her talk.

Sewanee Academics’ areas of interest included; biology, food and society, molecular genetics, botany, ecology, environmental science, and science education.

Nancy also shared with us Halloween (all that preparation, and you have to get a pumpkin), Thanksgiving (family, food, and football), Christmas, and a white New Year in Minnesota.

Baton Rouge Bluebonnet Swamp Nature Center (Louisanna), and then onto New Orleans.

Nancy grew up in New Orleans and explained that water in the streets after extreme weather was common, but that is why the houses were built raised from the ground. The photograph of where the water came up on the family home as a result of Hurricane Katrina had to be seen to be believed.

A photograph of very dusty cars with flat tyres in the airport car park still there since Katrina.

We had to guess what the huge cocktails were in one photograph – Hurricane – Pat O’Briens.

“City of Hope” was painted on a window.

A science communicator to the last, we had some take home messages of her study leave trip 🙂

  • The big museums in America are BIG
  • But sometimes small things can be just as effective
  • America is a complex place
  • There is more to it than McDonald and Hollywood
  • There’s nothing like time to think

As well as taking away a must see list of museums and science centres, Nancy’s insight from a science communication and personal point of view was captivating.


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