Outreach

It is my strong belief that as scientists we must be able (and indeed, eager) to communicate our work to any audience, whether it be a colleague, the general public, or a 7-year old child. There is simply too much at stake: appreciation for basic science and its crucial role in our society has been lost and we cannot blame others. The responsibility lies firmly with the scientific community to reach out to broader audiences and share their work, in ways such that people of all backgrounds can find meaning and recognize the importance of supporting this type of research.


With this in mind, in addition to teaching, I am engaged in a number of outreach activities, within the Bay Area communities as well as more broadly. These include public lectures at the Exploratorium, the East Bay Science Cafe, Berkeley City College, a number of local high schools, among many other forums and outreach events. Now that I’ve moved to the Boston area I’ve started to work on such activities within this community, for example, with a public lecture slated for this fall at the Boston Museum of Science.


In addition I have appeared recently on television shows such as the Discovery Channel Ecopolis program, the KQED Quest program, and a Fred Friendly Series.


Although I tailor presentations to each individual audience, here is the core of one that I have given repeatedly on the basics of nanoscience and nanotechnology.  And here is an article along the same lines that I wrote for the Society of Petroleum Engineers: A Little bit about nano (pdf).


In the past several years I have become interested in exploring new ways to encourage idea generation and creativity in science. As many have observed, it is at the intersection of disciplines where we may find some of the most exciting breakthroughs. In fact, in contrast to only a decade or so ago, more and more of the funding in science these days is geared towards large interdisciplinary research programs and teams. But how do we actually do interdisciplinary research? What does it mean? It is easy to bring people together from different disciplines for a grant proposal, stitch their work together and call it a big program. But all too often, the result of such large “interdisciplinary” research programs is simply that each scientist takes their piece of the pie and goes back to their own corner of research, with very little interaction or true cross-disciplinary invention.


In order to impact interdisciplinary research, I wanted to tackle the heart of the issue: namely, idea generation. How good are the ideas that we come up with when we cross disciplines, and how could we best generate these ideas? With this in mind, and having just read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, during the fall semester of 2005 I tried an experiment with the COINS students and postdocs: I “speed-dated” their research ideas. The result was exciting, and at the time I wrote a 1-page summary of that experience here Speed Date Research (pdf).


With a subsequent grant from the National Science Foundation, I was able to hire several outstanding graduate students from the Psychology Department and Business School here at Berkeley, who brought the necessary background and expertise to study this idea more carefully: Caneel Joyce, Jono Hey, and Kyle Jennings.  What we found is that Speedstorming, which we compared head-to-head with group brainstorming, can lead to more innovation more quickly. To read more about Speedstorming click here.