The AMVA4NewPhysics Network is already within its last part of operation, and soon its ESRs will be using the valuable knowledge and experience acquired throughout their participation in it at their next academic and professional steps.

Still, the overall aspiration in every educational and training programme is not restricted to enriching the ability and expertise of its participants within their specific field of work. An aspect which is at the same level of importance as the one of the personal and scientific gains, and as that of the indirect gain in terms of expanding the human societies’ knowledge borders, is the direct advantage that can be achieved through communicating the obtained knowledge to a wider (non-specialist) audience.

This latter process, usually named as “outreach”, is a section of the scientific endeavour which makes itself gradually more and more recognised as an ought-to-be indispensable part of a researcher’s work and life.

A couple of months ago, at CERN, there was held a Workshop that was “very rich in outreach” — as a (very) beginner in writing science songs would use to describe it, being inspired by Tim Blais’ ending presentation and the examples of rhymes that this contained.

Indeed, this workshop, which was organised by the AMVA4NewPhysics Network and was part of the first training event of the INSIGHTS Network, hosted several presentations, covering various views and things to consider regarding Outreach. Triggered by the messages and the overall information included in these presentations, I am here writing about the main axes of outreach, from the reasons behind the increasing need for this aspect of science to exist, to how this can be accomplished, along with some successful working examples -with different objectives each- that were presented.

Having in mind these axes, the ESRs may be motivated to extend their outreach initiatives also outside the scope of the AMVA4NewPhysics Network – which has already been strongly encouraging us towards this direction, and the non-ESRs might be prompted to pursue some outreach-related activity, having obtained the link to their most fitting concept.

First, why should Outreach be considered as something important in science?

As far as the individual scientist’s gain is concerned, one can see several ways in which outreach may be beneficial; as Sascha Mehlhase mentioned in his talk, these clearly include the improvement in the teaching and communication skills (which are essential especially for an early-stage researcher), the development of the ability to think from a different perspective through the received feedback (outside the specific scientific “comfort zones”), and even the enhancement of the impact of the individual’s research outcomes.

Of course, one should not omit the more practical benefits that are connected with the professional recognition of the outreach skills and activities as part of a researcher’s career (in terms of funding opportunities), as well as the ones that are connected with the immediate fun and recreation aspect of the whole engagement with the public.

Besides, experiencing what is the science reflection on the public’s response may even refresh part of the motivation in conducting research. On the other side of the same direction, outreach can also help eliminating several stereotypes that accompany scientists and scientific fields, and therefore make research and its outcomes more easily accessible to the public, motivating at the same time the next generations of students towards pursuing science.

But apart from the above, engaging with the society beyond the relatively narrow borders of a scientific community is a fundamental component of a “well-rounded scientist”, as Steven Goldfarb stressed in his presentation, that contributes to the structure of the researcher’s profile, which would otherwise seem incomplete.

One reason for this lies in the fact that strengthening the interactive link between science and society implicitly renews the social mandate the scientist has been having to carry out research, and preserves as such the necessary resource prioritisation in favour of the scientific studies. Communicating the research outcomes outside the scientific community implies raising general public awareness on the scientific matters, and hence promoting support for research, which serves as an important aspect especially for the publicly funded research.

Another advantage to consider is that public engagement can play an essential role in decisively correcting various existing misconceptions, which tend to spread easily and quickly nowadays, and which may distort already proven facts while calling scientific evidence into question. Actually, apart from the apparent direct way in which outreach can battle this phenomenon, there is also a major indirect way, which is achieved through instilling the principals of proof and critical thinking -as the basic pillars of every scientific achievement- into people outside science, and especially children.

Shaping the chain of thinking in a way that it incorporates the causes and consequences of every linking part can generically improve every possible process of opinion forming and decision making, and therefore tackle any expression of the aforementioned problem.

And while these arguments compose the reason why outreach can actually be seen as a scientist’s obligation, one should not ignore the additional parameter of the researcher’s duty towards the society. As James Beacham underlined in his talk, it is important to remember that science belongs to everyone, and therefore a researcher should not disregard the need to share their knowledge back with the society. This would be the same society which has provided them in the first place with the exact mesh of conditions and circumstances that were met for their retaining the valuable privilege of conducting science.

And in this context, maybe one should not even consider the public engagement as something that is out-reach; this would already assume the existence of borders around science, and it may implicitly contribute to the maintenance of any combination of separation boundaries among the public, the scientific community, and groups already suffering from stereotypes.

James Beacham


The importance of outreach may be evaluated in an “experimental” way, through the lens of the impact it has already had on the public. Jonathan Butterworth in his presentation showed how the particular event of the discovery of the Higgs boson at CERN and its communication to the public through various means and engagement activities (films for schools and the general public, TV programmes, school talks, public events, blogging) has improved public understanding and has stimulated people’s interest in physics. This impact can be studied and “measured” indirectly through the received feedback, but also with the use of quantitative approaches in the specific cases that this is applicable.

The post-Higgs boson discovery era was also described by Arnaud Marsollier, in terms of the media’s increased attention to the physics experiments at CERN and their achievements. Discoveries have always been important and impressive peak points in a however long journey of scientific development, which constantly needs fuel so as to remind the society about the benefits of research, and to maintain the motivation beyond the already achieved peaks and for the accomplishment of new ones.

And, how can one do Outreach? Examples?

As Claire Lee explained in her talk at the Workshop, there is not just one “correct” way or a generic recipe (social media/blogging/public and media events/…); being effective or not in one way of public engagement is independent from the performance level in another. One should, as a first step, figure out what fits best their personality, and that alone can guarantee a primary degree of success, since it allows their energy and passion to immediately reach out to the audience and thus quickly earn its attention.

A proposed idea that proves to be successful in whatever way one may choose to do outreach is the symbolic representation of the complicated concepts a researcher deals with, using everyday objects, that being a means to describe in a visual, tangible and creative way what needs to be communicated.

Patrick Koppenburg in his presentation talked about his personal experience using social media in public engagement, and about how science communication has evolved over the years. It seems that it may not be straightforward for a researcher to keep balance among the different topics about which they would possibly want to create a communication link, and also among the different target groups that they intend to connect with. However, this complexity aspect can be resolved via the acquired experience and practice.

Leonardo Alfonsi shared with us his own experience related to public events as a way of performing outreach activities, and described the several lessons learned in terms of both organisation and participation. Key ideas to attract the attention of the audience and create a memorable experience include the transformation of a typical setting (e.g. square) to a lab-like installation or vice versa, and the development of visual tools, interactive exhibits and various activities that promote the direct engagement with the public.

Additional tips to build a successful science communication format include the adaptability to the needs of the specific place and target group, and the ability to form a story with metaphors that can be immediately digested by the audience. The European Researcher’s Night (e.g. in Italy) is a representative example of such a public science event.

Claire Lee


Specific examples of science outreach organised by the CERN Media Lab were described by Joao Pequenao. The several challenges existing, the tools availability, and the importance of the team work were discussed as the starting material of this effort, while the kind of information that can be easily communicated and the level of engagement that can be achieved were underlined as important factors in the whole procedure.

Two applications that very cleverly combine these aspects and eventually accomplish balance among being informative, entertaining, and curiosity triggering are the Proton Football (showing how the LHC works) and the Higgnite (introducing to the Higgs field concept), both being parts of the LHC Interactive Tunnel project. This project is a representative example of the significant and ongoing effort at CERN to highly encourage and promote public engagement, reflecting its unique openness to the society.

The same direction is followed by the experiments at CERN (see for instance The CMS Higgs Boson Goose Game,  Build Your Own Particle Detector (ATLAS), among many others), and anyone who is interested in gathering more information about the related actions may navigate through the corresponding websites/social media/blogs/additional resources on the web.

Matteo Polettini presented another example of science outreach event, that has been taking place in Mantova, Italy, for many years, and which hundreds of thousands of people have already attended in total: the “Festivaletteratura“. In this event (see Ioanna’s blog post after participating this year), a variety of communication formats are used, from blackboard talks to frontal conferences, a wide range of subjects are communicated to the public, and people of different age, academic background and knowledge level can participate. This openness of the festival implies fruitful interaction among the different groups of attendees, and eventually manages to increase public awareness on several matters (e.g. climate change) in an alternative journey that people evidently enjoy taking in order to learn.

An example of outreach that combines science with art, and which is addressed particularly to school students, was described by Dario Menasce. “Creations” is an EU funded project that aims to stimulate the interest of the students in many schools in Italy towards the STEM field. This is achieved by making connections of physics concepts with works of art that are related to them and which are made by the students, that being followed by school visits in art and science museums. In this way, young people have the opportunity not only to get to know and appreciate STEM through the easily understandable language of art, but also to get personally connected with this academic direction through the works of art in which they have actually expressed themselves.

Tim Blais


Following the Effective Outreach Workshop that included the above talks, there was the presentation of Tim Blais. It was again an open event, it took place at the Main Auditorium at CERN, and it constituted a very entertaining experience for the attending audience.

Tim first introduced us to the “Edutainment” concept, through the live performance of a “science parody” song in which everyone enjoyed to participate. He talked us through this concept in more detail afterwards by showing the previous related work (including his influences) on the online platforms that host these efforts, and he described the ingredients needed to make a good science song, stressing the importance of being equally respectful to science and art.

Tim also referred to how the song structure and patterns resemble the ones met in nature, he used examples of how physics concepts can turn into a story, and underlined how the use of audiovisual techniques in the right way can result in the information in the lyrics being better communicated and the song outcome being both educational and entertaining.

Finally, through the feedback Tim has received online and which he shared with the audience, we could see how indeed engaging this way of outreach can be with the public, and in how many different ways people can actually benefit, most of which have in common the spike in motivation towards science.

All in all, science outreach is important. Nowadays there are several challenges to tackle through outreach, and at the same time there are several available means for performing outreach. There is a lot of room for ideas and manpower; good will and supportive environment can make a significant change in this direction!

And in this context, maybe one should not even consider the public engagement as something that is out-reach; this would already assume the existence of borders around science, and it may implicitly contribute to the maintenance of any combination of separation boundaries among the public, the scientific community, and groups already suffering from stereotypes.


Feature image taken from

Credits to Athina Zampara, Tommaso Dorigo and Cecilia Tosciri for the pictures.