July 29, 2011 | 11
This is an invited guest post by Olivia Koski, graduate of the NYU program for science, health and environmental reporting. She is a laser engineer turned journalist living in New York City, and a producer for Guerilla Science’s first U.S. event at Escape 2 New York.
Five years ago, some British scientists decided to do something drastic to change the perception that science is boring. They founded an organization called “Guerilla Science,” and went on a mission to introduce scientific principles in unconventional ways to audiences who weren’t expecting it. Call it science by stealth. “We set science free by taking researchers out of the lab and into novel venues such as art galleries and music festivals,” says Zoe Cormier, a journalist with a background in zoology and one of the organization’s directors.
Nothing is too radical for the Guerilla Scientists – their programs range from an evening of body mapping with a sex scientist, to audio tours of the universe, to dramatizations of treatments for psychiatric disorders (like electroconvulsive therapy). They set music on fire, perform alien autopsies, set up mock Decontamination Units, and dine on insects—all in the service of showing how fascinating science really is.
During the summer months, the team of Guerilla Scientists invade music festivals all over the U.K., including the famed Secret Garden Party, which has been described as embodying “the creative ambition of Burning Man without the dust.” Such environments feel like home to these unique scientist performers.
I learned about this incredible organization last February at the first ever International Public Science Events Conference.
At the event, Mark Rosin, a British physicist at UCLA and Guerilla Scientist himself, described his team’s outrageous science conquests and showed this video:
Afterwards he cautiously asked if anyone thought people in the U.S. would be open to this type of avant-garde approach to public science outreach. “Absolutely!” I told him.
Four months later, I got a very exciting call. Guerilla Science was invited to a music festival called Escape 2 New York, and needed help setting up a program. Escape 2 New York is the first American foray for the producers of the UK festival the Secret Garden Party, which bills itself as “a party unlike any other”. Heavily focused on art, the festival encourages everyone to take part in the fun, rather than posing as passive spectators. Previous years highlights have included hills lined with bubble-wrap, giant mud pits surrounded by hay bale coliseum style seating, and giant kinetic iron gin cocktail fountains.
Now, the inaugural U.S. Guerilla Science event at Escape 2 New York is just one week away. Alongside Patti Smith, The Psychedelic Furs, an incredible line-up of musicians, artists and DJs, in the first-ever sanctioned music festival on the Shinnecock Indian reservation in Southampton, New York, we will celebrate science Guerilla style. The program includes death-defying feats by a sideshow artist who has to know his science to survive, physics experiments from Rutgers University, brain trickery with a neuroscientist, vegan-taxidermy, the sociology of the nightclub explained by a professional DJ, instructions on how to destroy things using light, and much more.
Just a two-hour train ride east of New York City, Escape 2 New York promises to be an epic event. Whether you come for one day or all three, indulge in “glamour camping” or rough it on the dirt, be sure to stop by and say hello to Guerilla Science!