Let's Do Something BIG.
A COMMUNITY DEDICATED TO TELLING THE STORIES OF ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATES WORKING TOWARDS MAKING THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE.
I’ve often thought that an internal monologue of frustration-based expletives is the laugh track of scientists. Not only are we often inventing new ways to figure out things that have only been imagined before, but usually those inventions turn up answers that are opposite to what we thought they would be… so then we have to spend time finagling our brains around the new information to determine what it means. But what of when something goes right? When a code error finally gets fixed or a big idea falls into place, when someone else’s results match your own or a conversation with other scientists catapults you into a whole new chaotic exciting adrenalin-pumping hopeful way of thinking? Ooooh dang is that satisfying.
But even when things work out, there is always a next challenging step. Curiosity never rests for a scientist, and neither does our drive to share our discoveries with others. However, when we barely understand our own work, when our brains are grasping at straws (reusable, non-plastic ones of course), how can we expect to communicate our work in a way that others can understand? And not only fellow scientists, but politicians and grocery store clerks and the IT woman who saved the content of your laptop when you spilled coffee on it at 3am last year?
Science communication, in some ways, is even more challenging than the science itself. In its purest form, it’s translation. We have to take technical jargon, statistics, plots with thousands of data points and years of work and condense it down into one simple message that is easy for everyone to understand. But here’s where it really gets tricky: there is no way that one simple message can reach everyone. There are almost 8 billion human brains on this planet, and the beauty of our species is that every single one of those 8 billion brains thinks differently. But, as we’ve figured out in every past and present conversation ever, communicating with other people is hard.
So, I can’t say that I’ll do a good job reaching everyone (I am just one person lucky enough to have internet access and a nerdy-art-fixation), but I am excited to scratch a little bit of the surface. I’m excited to be a science translator. I’m excited to take complex science and turn it into comics and podcasts and adventure stories. I’m excited to bring you ‘Go Forth and Science’.
‘Go Forth and Science’ originally began as an idea stemmed from conversations around my grad school living room table with my roommates. Then it turned into a resumé booster to make me look better to full-time job hiring teams (seriously, what even is a full-time job?). And now it’s finally settled into a platform where I can share my passions for science and the world around us with people who are interested in following along. For those who have long commutes or learn best through storytelling, I have a podcast where I talk about natural sciences with cool guests, and of course tie in all the crazy adventures we get into when we’re trying to discover the world (like sleeping on glaciers, hunting for hot springs, and crying in front of high schoolers). For those who like to learn visually, I have infographics and comics. My drawings are mostly about sea life right now but stay tuned for more branching out on that front. For those who learn by doing, come find me on a sailboat and we’ll definitely get our hands mucky. But, since it might take a while for both of us to end up on the same boat together, in the meantime you can check out my website at www.goforthandscience.com.
My name is Jill Pelto, I am a Masters student at the University of Maine in the Earth and Climate Sciences Department, and I work in the Antarctic. My research addresses the history of the ice sheet over the last 10,000 years, focusing on the retreat of ice in the southern Ross Embayment. This sort of paleoclimate work is done in large part to learn about the sensitivity of the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the past to various ocean and climate parameters, to better understand how it may respond to current change.
I am also a climate change artist, and I create paintings that address both positive and negative environmental topics, with the aim of using art as a platform for effective science communication.
As an undergraduate student I worked on two separate majors at UMaine: Studio Art and Earth Science, and I developed a strong drive to link the often disparate fields. In my painting and printmaking courses I sought to compose images that shared what I was learning in my classes about the climate and glacier systems. I was inspired to share important environmental topics, as well as subjects that are simply fascinating to learn about. I was able to work in the field several times in my undergraduate career with Dr. Brenda Hall, and created field sketches and watercolors while doing work in these places, which included a field season in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Over my five years in these programs I continued to develop ideas for showcasing science in my art, with my overarching goal being a meaningful communication
about our natural world.
I wanted to gauge reactions to my artwork, and my initial audience was my classmates, professors, friends, and family. I was able to hear various interpretations of what my art communicated to them both emotionally and informationally. My objective was to engage people broadly by creating pieces that could express clearly and impactfully.
So far, the most successful and creative approach I have developed is incorporating graphical data into my artwork. I use x-y plots that tell simple stories of change over time, and link these with a visual message about the research question. Several topics I’ve chosen are: increasing temperatures over the last century and how this affects forest fire frequency; melting sea ice in the arctic and how this impacts species that rely on it; a shift in the United States to green energy use and how this inspires further conservation.
One of the first steps I plan to take as I finish graduate school and begin my career is to collaborate with scientists from a myriad of disciplines to communicate the research that they do with a broader audience. Art is a powerful form of expression, and is an excellent platform for inspiring thought. Whether I can transform reactions to my art into inspiring action is a question I hope to be able to answer in the years to come; but, without a doubt, I will try! Another major goal of mine is to continue to use my data art to teach younger generations about our changing world. It’s absolutely crucial that we share and instill an understanding of the impact of humanity on the environment, in school systems world-wide. I helped to develop a lesson plan about my work with Science Friday’s Ryan Becker, and it has been absolutely wonderful to see the creations of students from around the world, and how the students have learned from this!
I still have a lot to learn about communication, and I am continuing to explore different ways to mix science and art. One of the biggest inspirations for me has been working in Antarctica; it has been so impactful to actually visualize the role of the ice sheets for maintaining the sea level and climate in which we live today. Once I finish my degree, I plan to make a series about the beauty and vulnerability of these locations.
Young scientists are entering a field that needs more clear, and more diverse, communication with the public. As a result it is important to seek out a variety of methods for sharing the outcomes and messages of research, and note that collaboration with others (journalists, artists, writers, teachers, etc.) is a really successful way to achieve this. It’s important for us as scientists to start thinking outside of the box, and begin to explore unique, alternative methods through which to communicate science.