Alice Nott and Christina Giallombardo
The first instalment of Impact’s ‘Lunchtime Science Lecture’ series took place last Wednesday and was titled ‘Into the Dark Side’ and was given by Professor Anne Green. In her talk Professor Green explained how dark matter (her field of research) is, in her opinion, the most likely theory to explain the observed ‘missing’ matter in the Universe. Alice Nott and Christina Giallombardo share their experiences.
I study History and Politics at university, so science isn’t my speciality. Many art students might think that such talks aren’t for them and there is no chance of understanding such concepts. However, as the lecture showed, university offers unique access and opportunity to academics whose life’s work is explaining our universe’s mysteries.
In Professor Green’s talk, she covered a range of topics within physics, from gravitational waves and primordial black holes to WIMPS, which scientists use to test our understanding of gravity and figure out what dark matter is. Professor Green was clear that as much as she would love for physicists to answer the question of what dark matter is, it is a difficult question to answer and will take a lot of time and may never be solved.
With ideas as abstract as the beginning of time and tiny particles such as positrons, some might ask what is the point of answering such questions? As Professor Green explained there are two reasons: One is the ‘art’ in understanding how the universe began, just like the way literature and history provide the art of understanding feeling and where we have come from.
The second and more utilitarian explanation was the technology that can be created because of such research. Professor Green highlighted the creation of the World-Wide-Web, was a result of scientists at CERN wanting to find a way of communicating their findings to one another.
The talk conveyed that whilst university is a place for specialisation with many students and academics throwing themselves into researching one very specific area of one very specific subject, we should not lose sight of the knowledge that can be gained by looking to other departments.
I came into the talk as a third-year Physics student who took Professor Green’s module ‘Introduction to Cosmology’. Therefore, a lot of what was discussed, I had either delved into the inner workings of the theory and gone into in far more mathematical detail, or I did some research of my own. I’m even planning on pursuing a Masters in Cosmology and potentially conducting research into the mysteries of dark matter myself!
However, I still learnt a lot from Professor Green’s talk. Despite it lacking in scientific complexities, I learnt a great deal on how to effectively communicate such difficult topics conceptually to the general audience. Communication in science is a key skill, one we don’t get much practice with. As a STEM student, it can be very easy to get wrapped up in the calculations and theory and lose the ability to simplify and explain to a non-STEM student.
The key to a great presentation is good slides – keep them light and engaging with fun pictures that you can explain around. Make sure to keep good eye contact with your audience too. And the most important thing is to keep the difficulty of your presentation to the level of your audience.
It was wonderful to see non-STEM students attend the talk by Professor Green and show an interest in learning science. Physics especially can be a confusing and scary word when people first hear it but talks like these are the first steps we can take to begin to break down the barrier and destigmatize science. Just like how I don’t have to be a poet to read Shakespeare, you don’t have to be a scientist to learn about dark matter.
Alice Nott and Christina Giallombardo
Featured image courtesy of Aldebaran S via Unsplash Image license found here. No changes were made to this image.
Article image courtesy of Alice Nott. Permission for use granted to Impact.
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