This is a series of Q&As with young and up-and-coming science, health and environmental writers and reporters. They have recently hatched in the Incubators (science writing programs at schools of journalism), have even more recently fledged (graduated), and are now making their mark as wonderful new voices explaining science to the public.
Based in Adelaide, Australia, Lauren grew up wanting to be a fiction writer. She’s eighteen years old and already has a young adult novel published in Australia. During her undergrad studying Creative Arts, Lauren suddenly caught the science bug and became deeply passionate about science. Lauren now wants to combine her passions for writing and science by becoming a science writer, but in the meantime, she writes the highly-popular Tumblr blog, science in a can, where she mixes wonderful short summaries of science news with exquisite photos. Her latest entries are a wonderful recap of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity successful landing on Mars.
I’m glad that Lauren has accepted to answer a few questions about her new-found love for science writing and the key to her successful Tumblr blog.
Hello and welcome to The SA Incubator. So, what was the source of your sudden enthusiasm for science?
Hi, thanks for having me! About a year ago, I came across a series of popular videos called Symphony of Science, which is a project that delivers scientific knowledge in musical form. I had always focused on the arts, but this project brought art and science together, and I was immediately fascinated – I felt like I’d been missing out on something amazing. I began to read popular science books voraciously, listen to podcasts and watch series like Cosmos and Wonders of the Universe, and my love for science blossomed from there.
Why did you decide to start a Tumblr blog about science?
I was already a user of Tumblr, and it was an amazing way to feed my scientific hunger because it boasts a whole range of brilliant science blogs, most of which are written by young people. It occurred to me, though, that a lot of posts assumed previous knowledge and didn’t necessarily reach out to those who were arriving fresh to the field, or who wanted to have an interest in science on a casual basis. I realised that I could combine my writings skills with my passion for science to reach this wider audience – and hopefully even kickstart people’s interest in science. I suppose I just wanted to create a resource that I would’ve liked to have.
I also started the blog to help me with my own learning, to gain experience in science communication, and to network with like-minded people.
You blog about a variety of science topics on science in a can, from astrophysics to paleontology. How challenging is it to write about such different fields?
I like to mix up the topics I cover so there’s something for everyone, because I don’t want to limit myself or alienate some readers – and because I think it’s important to build a broad foundation. I admit that it can be quite challenging, especially when my readers suggest I write about topics I don’t know a lot about, but the challenge is part of the fun – I love to research and learn about the different fields, and I’ve always been good at digesting and explaining information. Part of the reason I started my blog was to challenge myself, so I welcome it!
science in a can is very popular with many posts getting well above 100 notes (which includes re-blogs and comments). What’s your secret?
There’s no particular secret, but I do have a few guidelines that I stick to. My blog’s “mission statement” is to write one-paragraph articles explaining the universe, so I keep my articles quite short, generally under 300 words. I know that some people don’t have the time or the patience to read long articles, but I find that if I keep my writing short, they’ll be motivated to read – and then if it sparks their interest, it might lead them to read more about the subject.
In addition, I try to write as clearly as possible, so that even if readers know nothing about the field, they can still understand it and find it interesting. I also make sure to post consistently, to pick intriguing article topics, and of course to choose images that will draw people in. Lastly, I try to make my writing relevant – rather than just explaining a topic, I often like to have an angle so that my readers can see the significance of the topic and how it could relate to their lives.
science in a can’s popularity shows that there is a demand for science content online. What role do you think young science bloggers, such as yourself, have in science communication?
I think we play a huge role – we are the future of science communication and education. Fields like art and sport are given high precedence in our society, while science is often dismissed or skimmed over, and I think this is largely due to a lack of communication – I know that personally, I never used to give a second thought to science because no one in my life had enthusiastically tried to reach out to me. Bridging the gap between scientists and the wider community is incredibly important for the future of the field, and it involves having the ability to clearly communicate scientific ideas. There are some amazing young science bloggers out there and they have exactly the kind of vibrant young energy needed to generate excitement for the field. We know what our peers are like, and so we know how to engage them and make science relevant.
The internet, of course, is an enormous force in science communication. It makes information accessible and engaging, and it holds an incredible amount of science resources, both text and multimedia – and young bloggers are able to connect these resources to readers. On Tumblr especially, the main user demographic is made up of teenagers and young adults, and so by using this platform, science bloggers are potentially inspiring the next generation of scientists – or, just as importantly, ensuring that the next generation is scientifically literate.
How do you see science in a can evolving in the future?
For the while, I’ve had an idea of using my blog as the basis to write a popular science book – but right now that’s only a dream! For now, I just aim to continue posting consistently, as I’m juggling science in a can with uni and other commitments. It’s still a pretty young blog, so we’ll see what happens over the next few months!
Which posts of yours do you like the most and why?
Hm, I think my favourite might be the article I wrote about particle tracks – they’re just so awesomely gorgeous, and I found it a fascinating collision of science and art.
I also really enjoyed writing about what space smells like, because the concept is bizarrely counter-intuitive, but also delicious!
Finally, what are your plans for the future? Do you intend to stay in science journalism?
After my current degree in Arts, I plan study an undergraduate science degree, and then hopefully find my way into the field of science journalism – writing science by day and YA fiction by night!
No, thank you!
Previously in this series:
Kristina Ashley Bjoran
Mary Beth Griggs
Amy Shira Teitel
Noby Leong and Tristan O’Brien
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX