The art of science communication: Ri Faraday Dinner 2016

Gail Cardew, our Professor of Science, Culture and Society and Director of Science and Education rounds up the evening's events.

  • Credit: Katherine Leedale

On Tuesday 4 October we were delighted to host our inaugural Faraday Dinner, bringing together Visual Effects Supervisor and two-time Academy Award winner Paul Franklin to speak in conversation with theoretical physicist Fay Dowker and myself. Sharing the stage with two expert science communicators was a real privilege.

Having recently worked on the Hollywood film, Interstellar, Paul brought a fascinating perspective on science communication. Having originally trained as a sculptor, Paul now works with a team of science advisors and computer scientists to produce fantastic visual effects for film. His work on Interstellar left a lasting impression on the film industry; Paul worked closely with Caltech theoretical physicist, Prof Kip Thorne to put real science at the heart of this Blockbuster hit. The collaboration was so successful that Paul ended up publishing a paper alongside Prof Thorne – a great example of how science and art can work to inform each other.

  • Credit: Katherine Leedale

We put Interstellar to the test by inviting Prof Fay Dowker to give her expert opinion. As it turns out, Fay is a big fan of the way science is communicated in the film. Theoretical physics are extremely challenging to communicate to audiences – even here at the Ri we are open to suggestions on how to do so on stage – and Fay explained that the narrative function of the film alongside the incredible visual effects very effectively completed this task.

The conversation with Paul Franklin and Fay Dowker was fantastic, a fascinating topic and demonstration of the Ri's unique expertise in convening and communicating science.

 – Louise Terry, Ri Trustee

And what better way to conclude a session in the theatre than with some tough questions for our panellists? One well-known scientist (and former Ri Christmas Lecturer) queried why scientists are more concerned with accuracy in media than other professionals – 'I never hear my lawyer friends getting upset over John Grisham novels,' he stated, to an amused audience. 

  • Credit: Katherine Leedale

After Paul and Fay gave us some food for thought we sat down for a lovely dinner courtesy of Elior and some in depth discussions on theoretical physics, science communication in film and, of course, where Paul keeps his Oscars.

The evening was also an opportunity for us to celebrate the Ri’s recent achievements and to thank our many supporters whose help made this possible. Our chairman Sir Richard Sykes had the pleasure of announcing that more than a hundred new Ri Patrons and new corporate supporters have joined us this year.

We chose to name this dinner after Michael Faraday, a man synonymous with the Royal Institution and whose passion for science was matched only by his determination to share it with the public. Faraday launched the CHRISTMAS LECTURES, establishing a national tradition, thanks to which countless young minds have been opened to science and we even had a special guest in attendance on the evening – a descendent of Faraday himself. 

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