Make science simpler for laymen, Nobel laureates advise students

Science students from 20 different countries received tips from Nobel laureates Wednesday at the International Science Youth Forum (ISYF) on how to better explain scientific concepts to the general public.

The four laureates, Professors David Gross, Ei-ichi Negishi, Jerome Friedman and John Warren, each shared some ways to make abstract science concepts understandable to ordinary people.

Suggestions included making explanations short, accurate and relevant, developing a trusted Internet guide for online science information and holding media symposiums to explain science concepts to journalists.

The annual forum, into its eighth year, was organised by Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) and Nanyang Technological University. Held at the HCI campus, it saw some 120 students from a total of 44 schools participating, the largest number to date.

This year's theme, communicating science, had students undergo a five-day programme, including visits to research laboratories and masterclasses with the Nobel laureates, centered around improving communication from the scientific community to the public.

"Not only must a scientist communicate well, he must also communicate responsibly, for failure to do so can have grave implications on individual well-being, public healthcare and society as a whole," said Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, in a speech as guest-of-honour at the grand ceremony.

"On the other hand, inspiring communication can make an entire generation dream and aspire to great scientific progress."

In line with the theme, students were tasked with designing posters representing their own science research projects. The laureates then judged the submissions on how well the findings were explained.

Two winners were chosen - a team from France's Cité Scolaire Internationale de Grenoble, and a student of National Junior College, Chia Tze Hao.

"I feel that there's a greater need for me to share my results and whatever research that I conduct in the future," said Tze Hao, 16, whose research was on the effect of a hormone, irisin, on skeletal muscle.

"The scientific part- research - is very important, but communicating it is equally as important to get it through to people."

But though the event's emphasis was on simplicity, Prof Gross - a Nobel prize winner in Physics for his work on string theory - said it did not negate the need for scientific rigour in explanations.

"There is a limit to how simplified you can reduce your description, of survey results and different concepts and different discoveries and the excitement and thrill of understanding the universe around you, without mathematics… and mathematics is the language of science," he said.

"It's like trying to explain to a deaf person Beethoven."

chiaytr@sph.com.sg