Model Ideas: Pocket Penjing: Stimulating the Public Understanding of How Models are Used in Science Through an Artwork of Affective Augmented Reality (AR)

Project: Research

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Since the 1980s there has been aninternational trend towards developing policies and public facing projects to engagethe public with science (Fujun 2013; Webster and Dyball 2010; Glinkowski andBamford 2009; Zhang and Zhang 1993). Approaches to engaging the public withscience and to increasing the public understanding of science are multifold, with theEngineering and Physical Science Research Council in UK and National ScienceFoundation in the US channelling monies into research projects that range fromdeveloping scientist communication skills (Webster, 2010), to developing scientistmedia campaign skills (Downey, 2006) and art-science cultural events that draw largecrowds (Heath, Hindmarsh and vom Lehn, 2005). However, the efficacy of each ofthese various approaches is contested, particularly those that take an overtly‘educational’ approach (Heath et al, 2005). Scholars have noted that such programmesare contentious, specifically, that scientists engaged in such programmes have beenseen as self-serving and engaging with the public only when their research is underthreat (Li, 2008). There has been a shift away from the more narrowly-focussed goalof developing public understanding of science and a move towards the goal ofincreasing the public’s engagement with science (Hargreaves and Ferguson, 2000).As ‘engagement’ with science gained traction, scholarship in cultural anthropologyhas been used to argue that cultural events and artefacts effectively ‘carry’ scientificknowledge (Csikszentmihalyi and Hermanson, 1995) especially participatorycomputer-based exhibits designed to include social interaction (Heath et al, 2009).Since the 1960s there has been discussion of the need for programmes to engage thepublic with science in Hong Kong and China, notably at the Academician Congress in2006, in a speech by President Hu Jintao where he urged scientists to “take theresponsibility of communicating scientific knowledge, scientific methods, scientificideology and scientific ethics to the whole society and to […] communicat[e] science,passion for science, learning science and utilizing science” (Qi and Fujun, 2012). Thedevelopment of art and science collaborative projects to engage the public withscience through the commissioning and exhibition of cultural artefacts has been leadby Wellcome Trust, UK and Engineering and Physical Science Research Council inUK who have reported on the pros and cons of such collaborative endeavours(Webster and Tyball, 2010; Paterson and Grant, 2011). However, there is, as yet, noin-depth evaluation of any single project, nor an evaluation of how successful suchprojects might be at communicating scientific knowledge and methods, such as theuse of models. We need to develop methodologies to understand precisely how art-basedwords are stimulating, challenging and developing the public’s understandingof science. If we cannot produce such methodologies, and demonstrate tangibleevidence of a developing engagment in some members of the general public, then wecannot adequately gauge the efficacy of art-science projects as methods for increasingthe public engagement with science in general.To remedy this gap, this study will a) produce such a methodology b) examine andmeasure any increase in the understanding of scientific models through the ongoingengaging with an artistic cultural artifact. The research will analyse how localaudiences make meaning of key methods and data from contemporary science. I amapplying for a GRF to consolidate an existing research project on the public’sunderstanding of the role of models in contemporary science, and the way models areused in the dissemination of science.


Project number9042294
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/11/1528/10/19

    Research areas

  • art and science,public understanding science,scientific models,computational modelling,