As humanity progresses and becomes more advanced, the introduction of new fields of study and specialization within existing fields becomes inevitable. With this comes more complex ways of understanding and talking about knowledge, so complex to the point that it can take years of education just to understand what is being discussed. However, it is important to make this knowledge accessible to broad populations, whether it be to encourage young, curious minds to pursue burgeoning fields or to simply educate the public about important issues.
While it can often be difficult to communicate complicated topics, there is an art to making the complex simple–using strategies such as analogies or explaining jargony concepts in plain words, anyone can make their work accessible to a broader audience. I particularly focus on science communication since I work in STEM, but these are strategies that work for any field. Another useful tool I have found for science communication especially is the use of models. I am actually involved in a project with Dr. Zuzana Swigonova called Touch the Invisible, where we print detailed 3D models of various macromolecular biological molecules for use in the classroom. This past semester we had the chance to show the models to the general public at the Smithsonian, and we found that our models really engaged people and made them excited to learn about biology.
Science communication is becoming more important as humanity grows, and I am sure it will become increasingly important as I progress in my career. As someone thinking about pursuing medicine, the need to plainly explain science is not just imperative–it could be the difference between life and death. Physicians regularly work with patients who have little to no understanding about the types of treatments prescribed to them, but it is the doctor’s responsibility to plainly explain to their patient what their diagnosis is, how they will work together to treat it, and what steps they will take next. Patients should take an active part in their own care, and this can only happen when the patient understands what’s going on.
Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw so many individuals choosing not to get vaccinated which I partially attribute to poor science communication. Obviously there was a lot of politics surrounding the vaccine that I am not qualified to talk about, but there was also a lot of misinformation or just poorly communicated science surrounding the vaccine. With more accessible explanations of the mRNA vaccine technology and its safety early on during the pandemic, there could have been a better vaccination rate.
However, communicating science is hard. It takes scientists years to earn a degree and understand their work, which they then have to explain to individuals with no background in science. Science communication is its own field, and it takes a lot of finesse to plainly communicate something that is complicated. Some of my childhood heroes included science communicators like Bill Nye and Carl Sagan, and I hope that science can continue to become more mainstream and “popular” so that humanity can reach its true potential.