Putting the “slam” into science

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Ingenium - Canada's Museums of Science and Innovation

It’s not every day that you can sit back and enjoy a pint of beer while being entertained – and informed – by a professional scientist.

But that’s exactly the idea behind the concept of the science slam. Modelled after the poetry slam, a science slam challenges scientists to deliver a five-minute, educational talk – while keeping their audience highly entertained.

“I love educating others about the work I do, and seeing their eyes light up when I talk about fish and wildlife,” says Sarah Walton, an aquatic biologist with a focus on research, monitoring, and education related to aquatic species-at-risk.

Last February, Walton presented at Science Slam Ottawa’s inaugural event. She was the winning “slammer” for her presentation about tracking fish and wildlife using telemetry systems.

“The opportunity to support my slam using real-life equipment enhanced the experience in a significant way,” says Walton, who is currently a Masters Candidate at Carleton University’s Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory. “It brought people into the ‘field’ with me – minus the biting insects!”

Walton says participating in the science slam gave her a great sense of accomplishment, and left her inspired to motivate others to get outdoors and enjoy our natural resources. She also believes that Science Slam Ottawa pushes scientists like her to be highly interactive with their audience.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to strengthen my experience in science communication – the public communication of science-related topics to non-experts,” says Walton.

Jesse Rogerson, one of the volunteers who helped to establish Science Slam Ottawa, strongly agrees.

“From the scientist’s side, they tend to really want to dive into their science and delve into the nitty gritty details – when that doesn’t really matter to the general public,” says Rogerson, an astronomer who works as a science advisor for the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. “The science slam makes the scientist think empathetically towards the audience, as opposed to only focusing on what they want to talk about.”

Rogerson and Science Slam Ottawa will host their next slam event at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum on April 13. The science slam is part of a larger event called Yuri’s Night, which commemorates the day Yuri Gagarin became the first human to go to space – back in April 1961. The evening will include appetizers, a cash bar, and music from nerd-rock band, Double Experience.

The science slam will feature between five and 10 slammers, presenting on different topics, says Rogerson. A panel of judges will evaluate each presenter based on their entertainment level, their science content, and their ability to include the crowd in the presentation.

For the audience, the science slam offers a fun way to learn something completely new.

“Sometimes going to see a science presentation can seem really dry – you might think of a lecture with slides, and it’s lame and boring,” says Rogerson. “Here, instead of focusing on education, we focus on entertainment.

“It’s a great way to cross over different groups of people who don’t normally cross over.”

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Sonia Mendes

Sonia Mendes is the English Writer/Editor for Ingenium. She loves digging behind the scenes to tell the quirky, colourful stories of museum life and all things related to science and innovation.