Young Scientist-Communicator Honor Roll

Today I'm giving the closing talk of the semester to students in an MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science course called 6.S977 - Technical Communication for Graduate Students. The course is mostly about how to write scientific papers, talks, posters, and grant applications, how to prepare for VC pitches, and the like. But the question for today's wrap-up class is "how to engage the public."

To some extent, this part of the 6.S977 syllabus is meant to speak to the requirement built into most new NSF and NIH grants that grantees show how their research will have a "broader impact" on society, beyond the technical outcomes. But from speaking with Jaime Goldstein, the MIT Communication Lab director who co-teaches the course, I know that a lot of the students also have a personal interest in becoming better communicators.

So I'm going to spend part of my talk reviewing fun examples of public science outreach and communication by young scientists, such as those below. Science celebrities like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy may get more media attention, but younger people who are a little closer to the trenches—meaning, the life of an undergraduate or grad student scientist-in-training—are often making more engaging, accessible work and grappling with harder issues. 

This list is meant to be inspiring but is by no means comprehensive. If you have your own favorite examples, please e-mail me at wade dot roush at gmail dot com.

BrainCraft — A YouTube series on neuroscience and psychology produced by PBS Digital Studios and hosted by Vanessa Hill (@nessyhill), a science writers and stop-motion animator who previously worked for CSIRO, Australia's main science funding agency.

Crash Course — A hugely popular video blog series, including courses on anatomy, astronomy, biologist, chemistry, and pyschology, led by "vlogbrothers" John Green and Hank Green. The pair also produce the YouTube series SciShow, and John is also famous as the author of the young-adult novel The Fault in Our Stars.

I Fucking Love Science — A gigantic Facebook group (with 24.4 million followers) and website presenting a daily selection of science news from the wider Web, all curated by Elise Andrew (@Elise_Andrew), a 2012 biology graduate of the University of Sheffield in England. Columbia Journalism Review profiled Andrew in a September 2014 cover story.

Minute Physics — An educational YouTube channel featuring whiteboard-animation videos on physics topics by Henry Reich (@minutephysics), who has a master's degree in physics and works at the Perimeter Institute. Reich's most popular video, with more than 10 million views, asks what happens when an immovable object meets and unstoppable force? Reich is also the creator of Minute Earth, which focuses on environmental, sustainability, and climate issues.

MIT+K12 Videos — A collection of student-made videos aimed at middle- and high-school science students, produced as part of a STEM outreach program of MIT's Office of Digital Learning. The program director and executive producer of the series is Elizabeth Choe, who has a B.S. in biological engineering from MIT.

Physics Girl (aka Physics Woman) — A YouTube series, hosted by Dianna Cowern (@thephysicsgirl), with production help from PBS Digital Studios. Cowern was a physics undergraduate at MIT and an astrophysics graduate student at Harvard, and now works in science outreach at UCSD.

Radio Contact — The Web/podcast companion to the special exhibit "Radio Contact: Tuning into Technology, Politics, and Culture" at Harvard University's Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. The interviews here were produced by Ian Coss, an independent radio producer and a PhD student in ethnomusicology at Boston University.

Science in the News — A Web publication produced by the graduate student group of the same name at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The group just published a special edition on neurotechnology featuring nine articles on new tools for studying the brain.

State of the Human — A podcast/radio series produced by the Stanford Storytelling Project, whose mission is to "promote the transformative nature of traditional and modern oral storytelling...and empower students to create and perform their own stories." Individual segments of the show are produced by Stanford undergraduate and graduate students, and often focus on the natural and social sciences.

Transistor — A STEM-oriented podcast/radio project from the Cambridge, MA-based Public Radio Exchange. The show is hosted by PRX's Genevieve Sponsler and features guests host/producers such as astrophysicist Michelle Thaller, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki, and biologist and writer Christina Agapakis.

Veritasium — A YouTube series that explores counterintuitive ideas in science, hosted by Derek Muller (@veritasium), who has a B.Sc. in engineering physics and a PhD in physics education research.

Vi Hart — A YouTube series on geometry, puzzles, and other visual and mathematical oddities, built around the delightful drawings and animations of Vi Hart (@vihartvihart). A self-described "recreational mathemusician" who studied at Stony Brook University, Hart has worked at Khan Academy and now leads a virtual reality research group in San Francisco called eleVR.

Vsauce — A YouTube series on curiosities in science, produced and hosted by educator Michael Stevens (@tweetsauce), Check out Stevens' 2013 Ted-Ed talk on making science videos.

For more great examples and terrific resources on science communication by young scientists, check out ComSciCon, a Harvard- and MIT-based group that organizes a series of annual workshops by and for graduate students on all aspects of communication. ComSciCon's annual national workshop is coming up June 9-11, 2016.


Wade Roush

Science and technology journalist