This weekend just gone, 3,000 members of the Edinburgh public engaged with university researchers through Explorathon 2017!
Explorathon is a public celebration of research that happens each year on the last Friday and Saturday in September. The event takes place in four Scottish cities – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and St Andrews – and is part of a bigger event called European Researchers Night. The latter is coordinated and funded by the European Commission, and around 300 cities across the continent take part.
Kicking off the public engagement marathon in Edinburgh were events at Ocean Terminal, the National Museum, the Botanics and WHALE Arts Agency, where people of all ages could take part in drop-in activities. At Murder at the Museum, there was a chance to explore forensic science and crime, while visitors to WHALE could tell their story on film in order to document local community history. At the Botanics, people could investigate the health of plants and the planet while, at Ocean Terminal, the spirit of the Beltane Network was truly represented when computing researchers from Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier merged tables to produce a single uber-activity all about robots!
Friday evening offered something for the adult crowd. Nicole McEwen, an expert territorial politics and constitutional change, was the excellent (as always) speaker at the Edinburgh Active Citizenship Group event at the City Chambers. Meanwhile, dinosaur expert and TV star Steve Brusatte thoroughly entertained at Edinburgh Cafe Scientifique in the University of Edinburgh’s own Levels cafe.
Proving that magic and play is for grown-ups too, the Curiosity Forest enchanted at the Charteris Centre on Friday night, where research-inspired storytelling and games were toasted with a nice glass of wine! Last but not least, Leith Labs and Queen Margaret University went after-hours at the Living Memory Association for a well-attended performance of the play “Human”, which tells a story of dementia and person-centred care.
On Saturday, the Curiosity Forest re-opened its doors to a family audience (spoiler – kids and adults enjoy the same games!) and WHALE Arts put on an extravaganza of craft and computing activities. The day at WHALE closed with a screening of the rough-cut of the cinematic community history that Edinburgh Napier film-makers had put together over the Explorathon weekend.
By midday on Saturday, when official European Commission counting had to stop, researchers had engaged with around 3,000 people at venues across Edinburgh, and the total grew as events continued on into the afternoon. It is, of course, not all about the numbers – more intimate events at WHALE and the Living Memory Association involved more in-depth engagement. For example, it’s not often that a single primary school pupil gets to spend 2 hours telling a documentary team his story, and all of us at Beltane are so pleased that these instances are part of Explorathon too.
There’ll be more evaluation and debriefing in the coming weeks to decide what we could do better next time. (We do hope there WILL next time, but this is dependent on a new funding application to the European Commission.) For now, me (Sarah Anderson) and Heather Rea (Explorathon Edinburgh Principal Investigator) are so grateful to:
- Jeff Sanders of Dig It! 2017 and the National Museum of Scotland, who put together and ran Murder at the Museum from start to finish
- Lewis Hou and Leith Labs
- The Living Memory Association
- Ocean Terminal shopping centre
- Lisa Thompson and her Curiosity Forest
- Max Coleman and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
- The Greyfriars Charteris Centre for Community – especially Dan Rous
- Dawn Smith (Edinburgh Napier) and the WHALE Arts team – especially Kate, who manned reception for the whole of Saturday
- Ulrike Knies-Bamforth of Edinburgh Cafe Scientifique
- The Edinburgh Active Citizenship Group
- The City of Edinburgh Council, especially Councillor Lezley Cameron
- All our fantastic researchers and volunteers! We need to do the final maths, but it looks like there were well over 100 of them
- All the support staff behind the researchers and volunteers
- Hannah Cook and Sian Hickson, who have recruited researchers and done all the central coordination and organisation – no small job!
Here’s to the possibility of Explorathon 2018!