By Dr David Slawson, Director of Open Air Laboratories (OPAL), Imperial College London

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The British Science Association (BSA) set themselves a tough challenge when they convened an education partners’ event to investigate how science could be better integrated into culture. 

While musing this challenge on the way to the event, I started to look at all the science that surrounds all of us all of the time: the cars; buildings; mobile phones; aeroplanes; the tube; us humans; the plants and animals (the overhead screech of a ring-necked parakeet was a colourful and noisy reminder of an invasive species). Looking into the sky with the sun rising amid the clouds made me think of all the complex atmospheric physics associated with weather and climate change. I then started to wonder about how all these elements interact with each other; so many people in such a small space, the noise, the pollution, the loss of habitat for the other residents on Earth; the competition between human needs and the needs of the planet. Anyway it brought home to me that science is an integral part of culture, it’s just that so many of us are oblivious to it.

It is to the BSA’s great credit that in a recent review they identified this challenge and set themselves a new vision that “science is seen as a fundamental part of culture and society” and recognised the need to “reach out not just to traditional science partners but to everyone”.
 
It was no surprise then to see a huge range of people present at the event, including people from science, education, art, government and industry. The scientists’ eyes were well and truly opened to some of the innovative work going on in the arts. We heard about Ignite!, “where science meets art”, which promotes creativity in learning by working with young people to reveal, develop and exercise their capacity for creativity and creative thinking, and even heard a fantastic science rap from Abundance Centres UK.  As someone who has previously used cartoons to convey serious messages about plant health , the importance of writing in a way that people can understand was brought home by reference to Robert Trotto’s book The Edge of the Sky which uses only the 1,000 most common words in the English language to tell the tale of the great discoveries and outstanding mysteries in modern cosmology.

There was some serious discussion and challenge too. Although all the work described was great fun, presenters were reminded of the need to answer the question “Why is it important for art and science to combine?” A great answer was offered: “To better understand the world we live in”. 
 
Also, delegates were reminded of the importance that people’s engagement can be used to answer important scientific questions too.  This was best illustrated by a joint project between The UK Space Agency and the Royal Horticultural Society (did you ever think these two organisations would work together?).  It sounds great fun for one million children to launch ‘rocket’ into space – rocket being salad rocket (that spicy brassica that you either love or hate). But the work will also help contribute vital knowledge about the self-sufficiency of humans in space.
 
The BSA outlined some of the great education work going on currently, including CREST Awards, British Science Week and the National Science + Engineering Competition, and also challenged us to brainstorm ways that they (and we) could work towards their vision that science should be “seen as a fundamental part of culture and society” and for us all to “better understand the world we live in”.

I came away from the event inspired by so much science, so much exciting art, so much we don’t know and so little time to learn it. Three cheers to the BSA for trying inspire children of all ages, backgrounds and interests to get involved.