Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The answer, my friend, is blowin in the (solar) wind. . .


One of the challenges of being a graduate student in science is developing the skill to communicate your research to people of varying backgrounds. If a space physicist from another university asks me about what I'm working on, they get a fairly different answer than would a scientist in a different field, let alone another grad student, a non-scientist, a friend, a family member, or a barber. As many of my professors have told me: effective communication is all about knowing your audience. What are they really asking when they ask what you're doing, and what level of detail will allow them to understand, instead of just boring them enough to make them change the subject?

This is a skill I don't think I've mastered yet, and I'm trying to get better at it. Teachers and media spokesmen (news reporters, for example) have mastered this skill, and I admire them for it. What good is science (or information, for that matter) if you can't disperse the knowledge among many people?

Today, my friend Dave (sits in the cubicle next to mine, has the same advisor, and is a much better teacher than I am) forwarded me this link:

  • http://www.spaceweathercenter.org

  • It has several little Flash games about space physics and space weather. You can have the Sun fire a coronal mass ejection (CME) at the Earth, and see what sort of damage it causes. You can play a neat mini-golf game that teaches you how charged particles move in electric and magnetic fields. I swear, you don't have to be a nerd to enjoy these things (but it helps).

    Explaining something so the person understands it is one thing, doing it well enough that they get interested is another, and making something fun. . . well, that's priceless. See, you can learn something from a computer game!

    4 comments:

    molly said...

    don't you think that "coroneal mass ejection" sounds vaguely dirty?

    David said...

    Regan never fails to point that out to me. I'll admit to snickering at it the first few times I heard it. Sometimes, the sun's just gotta do what it's gotta do. It's natural! Nothing to be ashamed of. ;)

    Regan said...

    David, your blogs are too educational. I want to hear cycnical remarks about the world and unending praise for your wife.

    Vanessa said...

    I think "coroneal mass ejection" sounds kind of fun (if done correctly, of course)... and Regan, I will give you unending praise if it makes you feel better

    REGAN ROCKS!!!!!!!!