Science communication in Antarctica

One of the greatest privileges of living at Palmer Station is the chance to meet the huge variety of researchers and technicians that pass through. During a given season, Palmer may host everyone from soil ecologists to whale biologists, giving the community the opportunity to learn about different corners of the world of polar science.

Every Tuesday night at 8 pm, the main event on station is a “science talk.” Recent highlights have included an overview of oceanographic robots and the different modes of research they enable, a lecture about how the decline of Western Antarctic Peninsula annual sea ice impacts local penguin populations, and even a slideshow of pictures taken at Palmer and its surroundings during the 1970s.

In early February, we had one of the most exciting talks yet. The party aboard a visiting yacht included Eric Lander, one of the main brains behind the Human Genome Project, and involved in other cutting-edge genomics research, such as the recent findings about schizophrenia. The group toured station, joined us for dinner, and, in a fun reversal of the norm, we all crowded into the lounge where for a talk about genomics.

Lander was so well-spoken and personable that, for me, his lecture crystallized the immense power of scientists who can communicate well about their work. Not only did he make complex ideas accessible to his entire audience, but he built relationships with us as individuals, drawing connections to research on station he had learned about less than an hour before, during dinner. I imagine these tools have been instrumental in helping him build a network through his career, one that has both spurred new ideas and inspired financial donation.

I usually think of science communication as a media-centric field, populated by newspaper articles and documentaries, but Lander’s talk underscored the power of dialogue about science between individuals, and reminded me that human relationships must be an integral part of science communication.



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