Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Kiwi science initiative takes off with 250k views

Professor Steve Pointing in new web-series Sci21. Photo / YouTube
Professor Steve Pointing in new web-series Sci21. Photo / YouTube

A clever effort by leading Kiwi scientists to speak out about big issues that will matter this century has paid off, with a series of YouTube webcasts having now attracted more than 250,000 views.

Leading the series, dubbed Sci21, has been prominent Auckland University of Technology astrobiologist Professor Steve Pointing.

Since he filmed the first video in August last year, 20 have since been produced, covering such weighty topics as melting polar ice sheets, the end of antibiotics, conservation of our marine resources and new technologies such as nanotechnology and photonics.

It's attracted some of our best-known scientists, including nanotechnologist and Weekend Herald columnist Dr Michelle Dickinson, microbiologist Dr Heather Hendrickson, Antarctic climate researcher Professor Tim Naish, physicist Professor Shaun Hendy, citizen science advocate Dr Victoria Metcalf and e-health expert Dr Duncan Babbage.

"The aim was always to target the big science issues that will challenge society in the century ahead," Professor Pointing told the Herald.

"I also sought out speakers on topics related to how we can improve the way science is done, for example, by improving Maori engagement and involving the public in citizen science projects."

As communicating science with the public was outside the comfort zone of many practising scientists, it had taken a while to create buy-in within the scientific community, he said.

"But the response from the public has been amazing. I have had comments from a really diverse demographic ranging from children to adults and grandparents, about how much they have enjoyed learning about science in a fun way, and in many cases how this has led them to seek even more science learning experiences."

He acknowledged that for people outside their specialist field, peer to peer communication by scientists was "almost like a foreign language".

"However science outcomes belong to us all, New Zealanders are increasingly expecting, and scientists are gradually delivering, ways to interact directly as science communicators.

"The Sci21 project has a further aim to mentor and give voice to the many emerging science communicators out there who perhaps would otherwise not have the opportunity for widespread public interaction."

What was next for Sci21?

"I would love to secure funding to produce the next batch of videos, these are quirky videos that explain the science behind everyday aspects of life and culture, from why we own pets to how kitchen appliances work," he said.

"I have plans to incorporate more animation and info-graphic styles into these videos, but of course these don't come cheap."

*People can view all of the videos here: http://sci21.co.nz/. Jamie Morton will also be interviewing one of Sci21's upcoming guest scientists, Dr Siouxsie Wiles, about science communication this Sunday as part of Tauranga's Escape Festival. For ticket and event information, visit taurangafestival.co.nz.

- NZ Herald

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