Scientists Performing Online TED Talks as a Means of Engaging the Public with Fundamental Physics
Author: Mircea Sava, University of Bucharest, Romania
Online media provides science communication with valuable tools which enrich the complex transmedial web of popular science, not only with the new social networks for public engagement, but also with updated, mixed forms of the traditional ways of communicating science. Public lectures held by scientists for non-specialists are one kind of such traditional endeavours which have nowadays been modelled by digital media. This paper aims to analyse how classical public lectures have been transformed in online media, by referring to some specific TED talks (Technology Entertainment Design) given by or starred by physicists Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene: Questioning the Universe, Making Sense of String Theory, Is Our Universe the Only Universe and Stephen Hawking’s Zero G Flight. The performative events of traditional conferences intended for the general audience are associated with elements of show and entertainment in a unique way in these TED talks. This metamorphosis is possible due to a negotiation process through which scientists accept to mix scientific information with entertainment, often with the help of professional science communicators, in order to reach a greater audience and to engage the public with science. From their research interests and their popular physics books, the two scientists preserve in their TED talks only the themes that are the closest to the public’s daily concerns or the subjects which retain elements of an out of the ordinary nature. The combination of different media is an omnipresent element of these talks, making them an evocative illustration of the convergence specific to online media. The digital public lectures, exemplified by the TED talks of
scientists Stephen Hawking and Brian Greene, are a new form of nodal points in the transmedial web of popular science, which offer a meaningful way to bring the public closer to the otherwise abstract science of physics.