What happens if you ask a child: “Hey, do you want to interview a scientist?”
That question drove science writer Jennifer Cutraro to develop Science Storytellers, a public engagement program that aims to sit children down to interview scientists, just like professional journalists do—and then to share their science stories.
Cutraro wondered: Would the chance to interview a scientist make kids’ eyes light up? Or would they mumble, “Um, no thanks,” and drift away?
To find out, she partnered with the science journalism nonprofit The Open Notebook to host a booth at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s 2017 Family Science Days event in Boston, Massachusetts.
The Burroughs Wellcome Fund offered generous seed funding to cover the design and production of booth materials (including the all-important reporters’ notebooks that are a staple of journalists’ lives).
Science Storytellers stocked its booth not with gadgets or swag, but with human beings: scientists who’d volunteered their time for an hour or two, and science writers who’d likewise offered to lend a hand, helping ease kids into conversations with scientists and offering gentle interview coaching when needed.
Cutraro need not have worried about whether kids would want to talk to scientists. The Science Storytellers booth was flooded.
Over two days in 2017 (and again when we repeated the experience in 2018 , at the AAAS meeting in Austin, Texas) hundreds of kids sat down and had conversations with scientists—conversations that lasted 15, 30, sometimes 45 minutes. There were kids who, after meeting a scientist on the first day, begged their parents to bring them back on the second day to meet more scientists. There were scientists who volunteered for a one-hour shift and stayed for five hours. We’ve overheard conversations that give us chills.
As simple as the idea for Science Storytellers is, it powerfully demonstrates children’s appetite for understanding science and scientists in a more personal, individual way—and scientists’ appetite for opening channels of communication with the young people upon whom the future of science will depend.