On 30th May, I spoke as part of Soap Box Science in London. This event showcases female scientists on soap boxes on the South Bank. My slot was an hour long, and the focus was on discussion with the public rather than a one-way lecture. This format was incredibly effective – many people chose to stay for the full hour and the discussion spanned topics ranging from the expansion of the universe to Higgs portal dark matter – issues at the cutting edge of research. I had prepared an hour’s worth of material, but this turned out to be unnecessary – the time flew by with questions and ideas from the audience. One aim of Soap Box Science is to facilitate these kinds of conversations – by putting scientists in public places with no microphones or PowerPoint presentations, where anyone can drop by and say hello.
As a theoretical physicist, I am not used to wearing a lab coat (which we wore on the day to draw attention) or doing practical demonstrations. For Soap Box Science, I had great fun with a model of the expanding universe, complete with tinfoil galaxies. As well as helping to visualise a tricky concept in cosmology, this toy proved a great draw, particularly for children. Most of the session, however, was spent discussing some fairly in-depth particle physics without props or demos, dispelling the myth that the public are only interested in science if it has explosions or is directly relevant to their everyday lives.
Soap Box Science’s other mission is to increase the visibility of women in science. This extends beyond the event itself. In the lead-up to the event, I took part in several local radio interviews discussing Soap Box Science and women in physics. This is particularly relevant to my own field of theoretical physics. My department is overwhelmingly male dominated. I am perpetually frustrated by the media portrayal of science as “for boys”, and by the (usually) unconscious bias that still exists against female and BAME scientists. We need to seriously engage with issues of gender and racial equality to have an impact, and initiatives like Soap Box Science are part of that process.
Early Career Academic Outreach Network Member and University of Oxford D.Phil. Candidate in Physics