Jen Wong, Guerilla Science

“Music festivals are an ideal place to share science”

Music festivals are places of wonder. They provide a riot of live art, performance and playful mayhem that stimulates the mind, body and soul. The curious and the quirky come together to explore this transient world – where everyone desires to escape the confines of their everyday existence and experience something new, captivating and exciting.

It seems natural to me that science communication would therefore thrive in this kind of eye-opening space. After all, science reveals the unimaginable realities of our universe that many of us can only wonder at. Since 2007, Guerilla Science has brought bespoke activities, performances and events to unconventional habitats for science. There’s always a demand for novelty and surprise at music festivals, and science provides huge inspiration for this.

By blending science with art, music and play we attract a target audience of young artsy adults with little background in science. Independent evaluation shows around 80 per cent weren’t expecting to encounter science at a festival. Many remarked that they’d come across our activities by chance and stayed because they looked fun. All surveyed said they would like to see more. The informal, open-minded and slightly bizarre nature of our activities helps them remain meaningful.

Aiming to embed science into culture, we take researchers out of the lab and into the festivals – places that inspire. The unique opportunities we create provide scientists with the chance to engage with people they might never otherwise come across. Eighty-four per cent of surveyed participants involved in 2010 said they would “definitely take part again”.

Scientists’ favourite aspects included the questions people asked. “This forced me to think on my feet and put across a view of my subject which challenged some of my assumptions as well,” said one scientist. An audience member said: “I loved the way people got enthusiastic about stuff that they might not normally think about or care about.”

The interdisciplinary space we work within also shows how much science needs the arts to be inspired and remain inspiring, and vice versa. Our ‘Experimental Ward’ within Secret Cinema’s ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ production introduced practising psychiatrists into an abandoned nursing-home-cum-Oregon State Hospital. Actors portraying mental health conditions were trained by psychiatrists, while our psychosurgical classes were informed by both patient and psychiatric perspectives. Participating psychiatrists and actors all remarked how valuable they had found the encounter. The 1,500-strong audience raved about the event. The outcome was a richer experience for all.

Reproduced from Wellcome News 67’.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Careers From Biology’ in June 2012 and reviewed and updated in November 2017.

Careers From Biology
Education levels:
16–19, Undergraduate, Continuing professional development