100 Grammes Pure Science

5 May 2011 Nikola Shahpazov
Professor Frank Burnet will be a presenter of British Council first Sofia Science Festival.  The name of his event is Science Pub. It sounds intriguing, moreover Programata will be the event partner. Here is an interview with Frank Burnet. He was extremely kind and answered about the famous Guinness bear, the Biochemistry, science festivals all over the world and what kind of knowledge we can gain, drinking in the pub. 

The self description at your official site states “writer, presenter, creativity consultant, festival director, science communication guru and shrinking violet”. Still, which is the most important aspect of Frank Burnet?
My main driver is try to use my particular set of skills to make a difference in the world. To inspire and motivate people to see their world through new eyes and change it for the better.

Back in the day when you got your degree in Biochemistry, did you imagine that eventually you would be known mostly for your work in science communication and not in Biochemistry?
I knew from an early age that I loved to be on stage, it was I think inevitable that at some point I would decide to leave the lab and try to find new audiences for science. A subject that has fascinated me from the moment I looked down a microscope at a drop on pond water.

Science communication seems to be a relatively unknown term in Bulgaria. Could you elaborate on its meaning and on the goals that science communication seeks to achieve?
Science Communicators use a mixture of media and approaches to enhance non-experts awareness, enjoyment, interest and understanding of science, while also giving people opportunities to discuss issues that science will always raise for society. The main goals, in my view, are to ensure that societies have scientifically skilled workforces; to give citizens the information they need to make informed decisions about their lives; and perhaps most importantly to return science to its place alongside art, music and literature at the centre of main stream culture.

You seem to have a good experience with science festivals. Is it easy to organize and participate in such events?
I have organized science festivals in many countries and on many different scales. The logistics can be complex and it certainly needs a talented team to put one together, but it is not difficult to make it exciting for the audience because there are so many exciting ways in which science can be presented and explored.

Do science festivals attract a large number of people?
The largest number I have known to have been attracted was the half million people who attended last year's USA Science and Engineering Festival on the National Mall in Washington, but that was promoted by President Obama. The Cheltenham Science festival which I co-founded in 2002 has built up to attracting about 40,000 people over five days.

What kind of people usually end up as the audience at science festivals?
The audience comes from a wide range of backgrounds, all the way from long-term science fans to people who may be having an experience of science for the first time since they left school. Festivals attract all age groups and can create progammes that contain events that meet the needs of everybody from young children to senior citizens.

You would be the presenter at the first British Council Science Festival in Sofia. Are you nervous before your first show in Bulgaria?
I am always nervous before events, in fact I worry if I'm not because I see it as an essential part of getting ready to perform. but once I get on stage the adrenalin takes over. I have been to Bulgaria several times and know that Bulgarians make a great audience, so all I have to do really is be sure to be on top form.

As far as I know, your event is named Pub Science. Sounds intriguing but what would it be like?
The show will be both entertaining and educational drawing peoples’ attention to all the science that is around them when they are having a drink. Things like why ice floats higher in whisky than water or why pernod goes cloudy, or even what causes hangovers. It will also gives the audience a chance to carry out their own experiments using everyday objects, like glasses, eggs, lemons and balloons. It is designed to be both funny and intriguing.

Would there be drinking involved or pure science for the fun of it?
People will be offered a drink as they arrive but the event is not about getting drunk, in fact, that might make it hard to get involved.

Do you enjoy going to pubs yourself? Favourite brand of beer?
I love pubs, particularly country ones with open log fires. In winter I often drink Guinness and in summer Peroni.

Do you know any of the other presenters at the British Council Science Fest?
Yes I have known Mark Lewney for a long time. In fact, ever since he won the very first FameLab in Cheltenham. I invited him to perform in the US when I organized a Science Festival in St Louis and they liked him so much they insisted he came back the next year as well. I am really looking forward to his show.


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