Last year, I wrote about a team of Chemistry professors and students who did a show at my daughter's school. This year it was a group of Physicists, and they did a similarly spectacular job of entertaining and teaching.
Just when I think I can no longer be entertained by seeing a banana or a balloon immersed in liquid nitrogen, I see one of these shows and am amazed. I am not amazed by the experiment itself (though fortunately the kids are), but by the energy and charisma of the scientists and the way that they explain things in a simple, clear, interesting, and fun way. The outreach work that these scientists do is extremely important.
I have the greatest respect and admiration for scientists who 'perform' for school kids and others, spreading the word that science is fun and interesting and blasting apart the stereotype that all scientists are quiet, strange men who never leave their labs.
The chemist who did the show last year is a woman (though not a full-time professor). This year, the lead scientist was a male associate professor, but he brought a group of students, including one female student. I am glad that the kids who saw both shows will have seen both men and women being Scientists, and, with all due respect to the women who do this important work, I am glad that elementary school outreach programs are not entirely the domain of part-time female adjuncts. My cynical bias, which arises in part because I happen to have my GENDER LENSES on (again), is that this type of activity will only be valued if Male Science Professors are active participants as well.
The essential element of putting on a successful science show for kids (or anyone) is to have the right personality and the ability to explain the science clearly. I do not have the personality or voice volume for this kind of high-energy science outreach. I have on occasion given short talks or told a story to an elementary school class, but these tend to be low-key events involving discussion, conversation, and only occasional goofiness.
I don't do these school visits to get outreach points on my annual report -- talking to kids about science has its own rewards, and I of course especially like visiting my daughter's class and school. It's a good thing that I don't need the 'credit', though, because volunteering at a school is something that moms are just expected to do. When my husband visits the school, he is treated like a celebrity who is doing something very special -- taking time out from his busy day of important work.
Even so, whether the scientist is low-key me, an exotic dad, or a charismatic physicist playing with dry ice in the gym, I think kids should see and get to know scientists and Science.
7 months ago