Webinar Report: Arts in science communication

How can researchers combine the arts with their science?

Moderator: Vinodh Ilangovan, Postdoctoral Researcher, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, and member of the eLife Early-Career Advisory Group.

Speakers: Luiza Bengtsson, Public Engagement & Knowledge Exchange Officer, Max-Delbrück-Center for Molecular Medicine; Edward Duca, Lecturer, University of Malta; Bilge Demirköz, Professor, Middle East Technical University; and David Odde, Professor, University of Minnesota.

For thousands of years, people have been using art, music and dance to communicate and to interpret the world around them. Arts and science therefore complement each other well, and there are a number of projects that aim to combine them.

How can you build a successful collaboration?

Through organising events for Malta’s Science and Arts Festival, Edward Duca has developed some important tips: have clear objectives for the project, know who your target audience are, and learn how you can go to where they are and engage with them (interactive activities are often best). Evaluation is vital: not every collaboration will work, but you can learn a lot from failures. Most importantly, the best projects require positive relationships and good communication between the scientists, artists and coordinators involved: “Mutual respect is key”.

Think broadly about how to incorporate the arts

Although the arts can help you communicate your science, you also need to appreciate their wider value. “I have a little bit of a cringe every time someone says ‘use arts’”, reveals Bilge Demirköz, who serves on the advisory board of Arts at CERN. “The value of arts goes greatly beyond [using them as] a tool […] the interaction between arts and science both explores what it means to be human and brings us closer to a mutual understanding”.

Art isn’t just for communicating science

Art can also be used to explore new hypotheses. David Odde has been collaborating with a dance company for many years to help him understand the movements and interactions of molecules inside cells. “It’s amazing how quickly you can prototype and build a model by using human movers, particularly when you have a professional dance company involved”, he explains. Hypotheses that remain promising after being performed are then investigated more precisely through computer modelling.

Art can be good for you

“Anything that’s related to your work but puts it in a larger context, that shows you that people are interested in what you’re doing, that has some kind of impact, is always good for your mental health”, says Luiza Bengtsson. Duca agrees: “These projects [organising events, writing, performing outreach] really helped me to be able to complete my PhD”.

“It’s important to have fun”, says Odde. “But we’re also engaging and learning and building relationships at the same time”.

Find out more

Collaborative webinar notes can be found here.

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