Scientific outreach at the Ghent Light Festival
By Lucas Vanhaelewyn at the Ghent Light Festival 2018 (835.000 visitors)
The light festival and some numbers
The Ghent Light Festival is held every 3 years and lasts for 5 days. This year the Festival attracted about 835.000 visitors. Ghent University (UGent) exhibited light-related research to bring laypersons and scientists together. For my independent project assignment of the ASPB Conviron Scholars program, I worked with my promotors (Prof. Filip Vandenbussche and Prof. Dominique Van Der Straeten) to organize a scientific outreach event about how a plant’s inflorescence stem bends to different wavelengths of the light spectra. The official statistics indicate that 60.000 people visited the University exhibitions. With an average of 15 to 20 people per session of 3 minutes, we have reached 7-10 thousands audients with our exhibition.
From dream to reality
The first question I would like to address is “How and where did we get started with an outreach event for the public?” This was my first outreach event, we first brainstormed on how to present my research in an exciting way. My PhD research mainly deals with Ultraviolet-B (UV-B) induced phototropism in Arabidopsis plants, but UV-B is too dangerous to operate in public. Therefore we opted to use other types of radiation which are also known to induce phototropic responses. We came up with a self-explanatory and engaging video (3 minutes) in combination with a poster and a live experiment.
It was also my first experience to create and produce an educational video. VideoPad, GoAnimate, PowerPoint and good old Windows Moviemaker were used. The production of the video was both a challenging and enjoyable learning process. The voice-over of the video was done in a professional radio station, which is a media-lab from UGent (urgent.fm).
The cabinet for the live experiment was designed by us and made by a carpenter. The live experiment consisted of four chambers, each contained a flowering Arabidopsis plant in a pot. Three chambers had unidirectional light of either blue (LED), red (Philips TL light with red filter) or white (Philips TL light) and one chamber was kept dark where we applied auxin at one side of the plant, causing them to bend. The live experiment allowed people to learn that blue light is an important phototropism inducer and that auxins play a role in plant bending.
The video and experimental set-up were presented in the UFO (Universiteitsforum) University building. The event started on Wednesday 31st of January, for five days starting at 7pm till midnight. At first it was a bit difficult to communicate the science behind phototropism in a simple yet informative way to laypersons, but it gradually worked out. It was a rewarding experience that people were curious and appreciate the video and live experiment. Sometimes interesting questions were raised, such as solar tracking of sunflowers, laboratory work, and to my surprise, I even got a job-offer related to growing tropical plants under artificial light (which I gently declined).
Video (enable the English subtitles):