Last week, we discovered the inspiration behind Lucianne Walkowicz’s interest in astronomy. She shared the details of her journey in the field, from her education to her career. But for Walkowicz, so much of her story is about more than her own passion for astronomy; it’s about sharing that passion with others, and making astronomy accessible to the public at large — a task that largely calls for the same personalized communication that’s fundamental in PR. In this regard, she has turned to several projects and outlets, one of which is Science Train.

 

“Science Train was inspired by an infographic in the New Yorker which showed socioeconomic inequality along the NYC subway lines,” Walkowicz explains. “My friend and fellow astronomer, Jeff Oishi, started Science Train [with me], with the idea that we’d ride the subway and make the ability to ask questions accessible. We don’t proselytize; we just make ourselves available. It’s an invitation to be part of questioning the universe.”

 

It’s a fabulous idea – to make the opportunity to learn about science so openly available in a location where such a large number of people may happen upon it.

 

Of course, even a strong idea is only as good as its reception by the public. Luckily, Science Train has had the precise effect that Walkowicz and her partners on the project had hoped.

 

“People seem to love the idea of Science Train, and I find that very exciting!” Walkowicz says. “It seems to make people light up, even when you just tell them it exists. In that sense, I think it’s effective just in that people then see scientists as willing to be part of a conversation — not off in an ivory tower, dictating facts from on high.”

 

According to Walkowicz, one of the great benefits of Science Train is that its design allows for it to be implemented in a variety of settings. Already, there have been Science Trains in Boston, Chicago, and Portugal, and the potential for the project to continue growing is fantastic.

 

This is a strong example of how Walkowicz commits herself to transforming science communication in such a way that makes scientific topics far more inclusive than they may often appear. For Walkowicz, there is a fundamental importance in generating strong communication with the public when it comes to science, and she never underestimates her own role in making this goal a reality.

 

“I am always thinking about how to bring science to people who don’t necessarily identify with it or seek it out,” she states. “A lot of times, that’s not because people don’t like it, it’s for a lot of varied reasons; maybe they live far from a science museum, maybe they work several jobs, maybe they can’t afford the cable TV stations that carry a lot of the science TV shows. Preferentially, science outreach efforts tend to reach white, male, upper middle class folks with disposable time. That’s fine, but what about everyone else?”

 

Science Train has been one method by which Walkowicz has attempted to answer that question and remedy the situation revolving around science communication as she sees it. However, it’s not the only approach she has taken. When it comes to her second method of strengthening science communication in society, Walkowicz has done so by turning to another passion of hers: art.

 

Walkowicz has translated her passion for art into a unique form of science communication. These piece is a still captured from a video of fluid motion taken from Walkowicz's personal website (tangledfields.com)

Walkowicz has translated her passion for art into a unique form of science communication. This piece is a still captured from a video of fluid motion (tangledfields.com)

Walkowicz has always had a passion for art. While others may see a connection between art and science to be a bit farfetched, but as someone with a deep love and understanding of both, Walkowicz finds easy connections between the two.

 

“Both artists and scientists grapple with questioning the world, with revealing patterns and connections,” she says. “They are not nearly as dissimilar as people think they are! In essence, both [art and science] look at the world around them and ask, what are the interesting things to investigate? What do I want to bring to light? What can I say that no one has said before? These questions are fundamental to both art and science.”

 

In identifying this connection, Walkowicz has also identified another important opportunity to build science communication in a unique new way. She has taken advantage of her talent for art and her knowledge of astronomy, and she combined the two in such a way that she is able to create astronomy-inspired art via a variety of media, including acrylic, oil, photography, and sound.

 

Art is a communication form that changes the language of science communication, and it can entirely transform people’s reception to scientific topics. More importantly, it has the potential to dramatically widen the audience for which these topics can be considered relatable and understandable.

 

“I think experiencing artwork is actually a great way of translating what it’s like to actually be a scientist,” Walkowicz shares. “When scientists look at their data, it’s not like it comes with an explanatory plaque that tells you what it is and what it means. It can be confusing, frustrating, and occasionally of course, illuminating! When you go to a science museum, though, there’s an emphasis on explanation, and it can be tempting to then think that science is all about explanations, when in fact it’s about finding more questions. In viewing a piece of art that is informed by science but whose goal is not necessarily to explain, you give people the option of discerning patterns for themselves. They see there’s something there that may mean something, but they’re not sure what yet. That’s a common experience in being a scientist I think, but it’s lost in the way we distribute science to the public.”

 

Next week, Walkowicz focuses more specifically on the topic of women in STEM. She shares some of the common obstacles that she has found herself up against as a woman working in a science field. Furthermore, she discusses some of the important points that she thinks are essential to the public conversation on women in STEM.

 

If you are a woman working in STEM and are interested in being featured in our ‘Women Leaders in STEM’ series, shoot us an email at blog.muipr@gmail.com or tweet me @tamarahoumi