Science Festival interview with Stuart Dunbar
Stuart Dunbar, Engagement Manager, was part of a team of staff and students who helped visitors interact with SCI-FUN’s vast array of hands-on science activities.
SCI-FUN was an element of the University of Edinburgh's free family events at the National Museum of Scotland throughout the Edinburgh International Science Festival.
What can people coming along to your event expect to experience?
The SCI-FUN Roadshow is essentially a mini science centre: there is an incredible collection of interactive exhibits covering a range of scientific concepts.
My colleagues Peter Reid and Mark Reynolds do an amazing job in producing high-quality activities. There are lots of opportunity for visitors to investigate activities on their own, with relatives and friends, or with the support of one of our student assistants.
Information boards are on show for those who want to know more about the science behind each activity. Hopefully everyone visiting - whether old or young - will learn something new.
What do you hope visitors can get out of coming along to the Science Festival?
I hope participants will feel a sense of discovery and see things that spark their imagination, as well as develop a greater interest in science and engineering.
There is a great atmosphere across the Festival venues and there are wonderful opportunities to meet scientists at the cutting-edge of their fields. For me, the idea that science is part of every aspect of our lives and continues to make a significant contribution to our existence is important.
Why is it important that the Science Festival attempts to engage younger visitors?
The sciences, although recognised as a key contributor to our nation’s economy, can be considered dry and difficult subjects to learn at school.
Through our participation in science festivals, as well as visiting 11-14 year olds in schools, the SCI-FUN Roadshow presents science in an imaginative way and allows independent exploration, complementary to school work.
Having the opportunity to learn about science away from the classroom, in an informal environment, is vital for young people.
Why is taking part in public events such as the Science Festival important to you?
Community events are a great way to reach all sectors of society. Also, it is a brilliant opportunity for University staff and students to engage with the public.
It is very easy to get caught up in the ‘ivory tower’ of University life, but community events provide a great way for people to congregate and learn - that hopefully goes for both Science Festival visitors and those delivering the activities!
What impact does your day-to-day work have on society?
As well as coordinating the SCI-FUN Roadshow, I am involved in other University public events, such as Doors Open Day and Science on a Summer’s Evening. Through these, I contribute to opportunities for scientists and engineers to engage directly with public and school audiences.
This has a two-sided benefit. It encourages researchers to consider the impact of their work and, probably more importantly, it allows other groups to see first-hand how science is developing.
Too often, scientists are seen as knowing everything already, but actually science is evolving all the time.
What do you get out of engaging with the public?
It is brilliant to talk to the visitors, from young children who are amazed by seeing a concept for the first time, to experts in an area of research or industry.
I could not have a job doing the same thing day in, day out - the SCI-FUN Roadshow has enabled me to meet fascinating people and have many engaging, stimulating discussions.
I’m sure that this year’s Science Festival will contribute even more to this experience!