Make physics communication easy as it is

Physicists describe Nature. They are the one who can mediate us, with care and attention, general features, hypotheses and theories that help us to describe physical phenomena drifting from a more abstract and fundamental level to the tacit, complicate, the real existence of things. However, they face the challenge when is time to explain how elementary particles interact with the quantum world. Together, efforts in knowledge transfer and education can be enhanced, triggering the role of fundamental research as a motor for new technologies and relevance for society.

The act of presenting physics to a general audience can shift from uncomplicated to tricky parts showing some sets of instrumentation, massive detectors and what glue thousands of researchers together working on the same project. Taking as example CERN and the collaborating universities and institutions that every day play a fundamental role in global developments in nuclear and particle physics since the past six decades, performing fundamental snippets for the enterprise defining one of the world-leading physics laboratories.

Is here that young researchers explore the world of communication for the first time, presenting their talks trying to illuminate curious children, visitors busy and hectic to grasp detailed information on how and why CERN has grown since 1954, the time when the European Organization of Nuclear Physics was found.  Decades that saw entire generations of physicists working hard to probe which basic constituents define the structure of matter: quarks that compose protons, neutrons, pions and hadrons.

The people that give light to discoveries capable to determine how the structure of matter as a whole is linked with the way(s) these particles interact through fundamental forces (electromagnetic, weak and strong) at subatomic scales. With the Standard Model, the electromagnetic interaction, better known as electrodynamics, and the weak interaction found a common electroweak description. On the same rail, the strong force could be described in terms of intercommunication between quarks having a strong charge, or colour, shaping the field of chromodynamics.

Sometimes, even within intensive discussions growing across the most brilliant form of success, results and upcoming outlooks, researchers are not fully able to explain what went wrong in the public perception and overall satisfaction when is time to touch some hot topics such as:

  • Does the Higgs field infuse all of the space?
  • Are we bathing in Dark Matter?
  • Are high-energy collisions between nuclei sufficient to replicate the Big Bang cosmology?
  • Do Quarks really exist? If yes, are they particles or waves?

Is not hard to imagine how many of you recognize these trends, trying to remember which were the subsequent arguments used to get the audience back on track of the talk or workshop aims, planned and constructed to inform, mixing and calibrating technical -verbal elements to avoid boredom.

Every one of us experienced how the art of communicating the world of physics and its eternal questions requires a Bayesian approach to offer a continuous and evergreen depiction of reality. The one indispensable to generate equality in the audience, letting almost everyone to understand which are the challenges that physicists face. The approach that like a sharper form of art, is able to provide empathy and better descriptions of content, whispered as autonomous lymph, enclosing a scala of plentiful recognition from the community of researchers, professors and dedicated amateurs involved in shaping the current science communication scenario.

The community-engaged to dedicate time and resources to find suggestive and efficient metaphors, analogies, materials able to improve the general understanding of the world lots of us declare to know, but that as intimate truth demand something more – in terms of basic cognition – to be sawed…

Being just intuitive and learn how to see the physics shaping our everyday experiences, concentrating on ultimate and groundbreaking discoveries is as ineffective as pretend to see something with a telescope, in a humid metropolitan afternoon. Sometimes we need to do first by ourselves a step back, define mechanisms and realistic insights to then have a view on the descriptive nature of physics we aim to clarify. When we address this request, is possible to organize a talk and the content clarifying even how statistics and simulations work to explain particles data analysis; avoiding the big picture of what define statistics and simulations in general terms.

Priorities need to be set-up before we go through the systematization of general facts defining the experiments we are working on, organizing the main empirical findings into a clear reference context.

Researchers feel an essential sense of pleasure when they find things out.

You can think about that as a distinguishing feature of this ethnicity that becomes even more quenched when findings are presented in a concise form able to find the relevant invariant links with the whole scene.

In many cases, going through what defines the very basic hints of the scientific method is part of a safe, well- known path-strategy, to test if the public is somehow subjected to a deficit model thinking. Sceptic towards the content because of a lack of adequate knowledge about physics. Overcome it is easy, providing sufficient, direct and clear information when is time to feel the gap(s).

Very good communicators are able to establish a vivid contact with the audience, made by non-experts and encouraged to voice personal understanding, views and expectations on the talk. This is a very powerful strategy to establish a connection and to get upstream inputs from the public.

Maybe these hints can help communicators going through the few typical questions explored in the first paragraphs of this post: if we talk on fundamental fields Standard Model, quarks are real and genuine quantum phenomena, behaving as diverse entities from particles or waves. We reached the goal to produce and study the neutral mediator of the weak interaction, the Z boson, required to bestow the masses to the W/Z bosons and track all of the nice properties of bosons interactions (at higher energies) in the Higgs one.  About Dark Matter, we don’t know everything yet, but research in CERN already helped us to cast light on the moments that follow the Big Bang, while the Higgs field was permeating the Universe going through this phase transition giving mass to elementary particles.  The answer made possible using the higher energy and intensity diverse range of beams, from electrons and protons and their antiparticles to heavy and radioactive nuclei aiming to reconstruct the cosmological event.

All of these available resources are part of the knowledge sharing that define CERN as a whole organization, made by physicists that are both on and off-site.

Communication and sharing processes are part of our social responsibility, the one that should manifest and spread as a symbiotic virus within peers, the general public, decision-makers and politicians. Scientific culture is now, more than ever, a constituent part of our society, The extended and differentiated scenario requiring more scientists, experts communicator and mediators of this culture to be at the forefront of this needed and valuable physics and scientific culture.


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