How do we science? / News / Science and Communication

Ditch the jargon!

I’ve been thinking a lot about science communication recently. From translating my research about nitrogen cycling into a lesson plan for high school students (via SciREN) to applying for science communication workshops, I feel like everything I’ve done recently has revolved around effectively communicating science to a non-scienctist audience. Which is equal parts great (!) and incredibly challenging. Doing all this, I’ve started to realize I tend to use a TON of jargon when talking about my research; even jargon that I often take for granted. Do you think a land-locked high schooler has ever heard of phytoplankton? Probably not (I hadn’t as a land-locked high schooler, back in the day…). Thankfully, there’s a really great on-line tool that helps cut down on jargon (to the extreme!). Enter, The Up-Goer Five Text Editor. Essentially, it’s an on-line text box where you can type about your research (or whatever). The catch: it only lets you use the ten hundred most used words in the English language. Spoiler alert: phytoplankton is not one of them…

I’ve already used the Up-Goer Five Text Editor to talk about my research (see here), but I thought it would be an interesting exercise to try to convey information about a topic that I (also), don’t know much about. And then I remembered that whole ‘gravitational wave’ thing and was like ‘Yeah – what is that?!?’. So without further ado, here is my (very brief and probably naive) summary about gravitational waves, using only the ten hundred most used words…

Gravitational waves

Illustration of gravitational waves. From here.

‘Way back in the early 1900’s, Albert Einstein thought about many different things dealing with space, time, and numbers, leading to his several well-known ideas. Many of these ideas were just on paper, with no actual backing (other than in a numbers sense). For one of his ideas, he thought that really big (like really, really, really large stars), very fast moving things could form waves in space-time (think of the small waves formed when you drop a rock in water, except, gravitational waves, as they are called, form in space-time and move away from the really big star as fast as light). Backing for Einstein’s idea, first came about in the mid-1970’s when people saw two stars moving around each other in a way that would form gravitational waves. After watching these two stars for 8 years, people were able to show that Einstein’s numbers matched what was being seen. This was exciting! But people still wanted more backing. So, people started setting up things that might actually be able to ‘hear’ these changes to space-time. And, in September 2015, this happened! Nearly 100 years later there is now complete backing for Einstein’s idea about waves in space-time!’

*Disclaimer: ‘Gravitational’ is obviously not one of the ten hundred most common words (neither is Einstein), but I figured I could get away with using it since it’s part of the topic….

Information about gravitational waves came from two sources (you should actually check-out the articles – it’s pretty awesome stuff and really an incredible scientific feat!):


NY Times Sciences

Feature image of gravitational waves from here.

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