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Laurentian introduces science communication program

BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN [email protected] Artsy types might not want to admit it, but science has a profound impact on the world.

Artsy types might not want to admit it, but science has a profound impact on the world.

But despite the obvious importance of engineering, biology, physics and geology, very few people understand these subjects.

That's why learning how to communicate science in simple, exciting ways is important, says Dr. David Pearson, a well-known earth sciences professor at Laurentian University.

Several years ago, Pearson, along with Science North employee Chantal Barriault, decided to set up a new graduate diploma program in science communication at Laurentian University.

The program was developed in an equal partnership between Laurentian University and Science North.

The 15 students being accepted into the one-year program next fall will learn the theory and principles of science communication, and how to apply that knowledge in the media and museum exhibits.

A bachelor's degree in science is a prerequisite for the program. University specialists in earth science, rhetoric, mathematics and philosophy will teach courses, along with Science North staff.

?This program will have people who already know a good deal about science. What we will do is give them practice in communicating that science in an effective way,? says Pearson.

?To communicate is not just being able to communicate ideas in simple language. But it's also important that people be able to understand where the audience is coming from. An audience of politicians is very different from an audience of families.?

The professor has plans to develop a two-year master's degree in science communication in a few years. The one-year diploma program will still exist for those who want to enter the workforce sooner.

Barriault is in a unique position to know the importance science communication. Back in 1997, Science North paid for the longtime staff scientist to attend the University of Glamorgan in Wales, where she earned her master's degree in the subject.

?The program did help me. It gives you a theoretical framework for science communication and a lot of experience in other avenues of science communication that I hadn't necessarily experienced, just working in a science centre,? she says.

?I kept a journal while I was there and took a lot of notes, and brought all that information back with me so we could start up a program at Laurentian.?

Graduates of the LU program could potentially work in science centres, public relations or the media, says Barriault.

?Business and industry are looking for good science communicators to help get their message out. So anything from pharmaceuticals to genetically modified foods. The science might be a little bit difficult to sell to the public,? she says.

Science North, which has a unique expertise in science communication, will be the ?living lab? for the program, she says. Students can apply their theoretical knowledge at the science centre.

?At the end of the course, we're hoping that students will have had the chance to develop a portfolio of science communication materials, whether they be exhibits or multimedia experiences or live programs.?

Pearson says he's extremely excited to see the science communication program become a reality. He believes it will add to Laurentian University's reputation for unique niche programs.

?We're right at the cutting edge. We're the first of this kind of program in North America. We're one of about six in the world. I think we've got the potential to be the best. This is only the start.?

For more information about the program, go to


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