By Shaun Scaramuzza
On the 27th June 2020 it was time for the annual Malvern Science in the Park, a family-orientated science outreach event showcasing both key research questions, as well as pathways into science. Unfortunately, due to the effects of COVID-19 in the UK, Science in the Park couldn’t be held in the great outdoors as normal, and so the event went virtual.
Through a series of short talks, pre-recorded videos, and follow-along live experiments, Malvern Science in the Park covered an extremely wide range of fields; including Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering, Astrology, Geology, and Archaeology . The choice of presenters was also extremely varied, including academic researchers, STEM ambassadors, outreach event teams, and hobbyists. I thought this variety of both speakers and topics was actually really advantageous, and ensured that the day included something for everyone.
I particularly enjoyed the videos of easy-to do experiments from home (e.g. Making bubbles, balloon cars, lava lamps, bouncy eggs, water clocks, and water rockets), which even included a number of tasks and challenges to follow along with live. This definitely added a ‘science festival’ feeling to the event and were evenly spread out throughout the day to nicely break up the talks. I was initially concerned that the switch to online would result in a long series of lectures, but by including these aspects, the organisers ensured that the event was light, interactive, and most importantly, fun! In addition, the BINGO game throughout the day, further encouraged audience participation.
Although the decision to host the event virtually was a forced one; I could see several advantages with this. First, through hosting the event across multiple platforms, the organisers may have enticed an entirely different audience, further afield or even international as participants did not have to physically travel to the park. Second, the speakers were available throughout to answer questions and provide materials, even hours after their talks/sessions. Despite this, I do believe that nothing will beat an ‘in person’ event, and a number of challenges were apparent; mainly surrounding audience participation and learning. Although the organisers had included a number of different methods to get in contact, including Twitter, Facebook, and the live Zoom chat. I felt that there may have been a reluctance to ask questions online, and that the numbers of questions asked was probably much lower compared to the usual outdoor setting of Science in the Park. Personally, I believe it may have been useful to incorporate a few live discussion sessions where the audience could chat, instead of typing virtually, to the speakers to discuss any questions or interests further .
Overall, the Malvern Virtual Science in the Park was a light and fun day showcasing a wide variety of scientific projects and questions. In particular, emphasis was made to demonstrate that science is generally multi-disciplinary, and there are aspects to interest everybody. I would recommend everyone interested in, or with family members interested in science to visit; and I am looking forward to attending in person next year!