OIST’s Science Festival goes online for 2021
On Saturday 30th January, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) held its annual Science Festival but, this year, it was a bit different. Through a combination of prerecorded videos and a livestream, it was moved completely online to allow for a safe amount of social distancing to occur.
The livestream included a presentation on debunking myths surrounding COVID-19, a discussion about the invasion of foreign species in Okinawa, and a science Q&A session. OIST’s Community Relations Section, whose members organize many of OIST’s outreach activities (including the Science Festival), worked hard to enrich the event with pre-recorded videos, which included an interview about the day in the life of a scientist and a campus tour. In total, 3000 people from around Japan either tuned in to the livestream or watched the pre-recorded videos.
Take a look at the livestream below and have a look at the pre-recorded videos on the Science Festival website.
The importance of scientific outreach
Following the Science Festival, science communication staff member Lucy Dickie caught up with three members of the OIST community who were involved in organizing and delivering the content:
- Community Relations Section staff member Kennusoke Arime was the main behind-the-scenes organizer of the event
- Postdoctoral researcher Dr Chris Petoukhoff was part of a presentation that debunked three common COVID-19 myths
- PhD student Ivan Mbogo who was the focus of a pre-recorded video that described the day in the life of a scientist
They discussed the Science Festival, the challenges and opportunities that came with hosting it online this year, and the importance of scientific outreach. Listen to the resulting podcast here:
Kennosuke talked about how this year, when it came to the Science Festival, the Community Relations Section had two options. “We could have cancelled the event, but we didn’t choose that one. We chose the more difficult option, which was to do it online, and it was successful with the cooperation from everyone in the Community Relations Section and many other members of the OIST community.”
Kennosuke went on to explain why he thinks the Science Festival is important for Okinawa. “Some people think that the science research being done at OIST is not related to their lives directly. I think the role of the OIST science festival is to show the joy of learning science to such people. Our mission is to engage school aged children with science so they can become involved with science and technology through our activities and might become involved with STEM in the future.”
The presentation that Dr. Petoukhoff was involved in was focused on answering three common questions that surround the novel coronavirus: Do masks work? Do masks impact our ability to take in oxygen? And does handwashing work? Although this presentation was on a subject very centered around 2020 and 2021, Dr. Petoukhoff has been involved in scientific outreach for around twelve years, since he was an undergraduate student in the States, majoring in Chemistry and Physics.
“As researchers, our end goal is nearly always to benefit the public or society in some way, so we should find ways of communicating our research to the general public,” Dr. Petoukhoff said. “I really like knowing that kids and the local community walk away knowing something new about science that they didn’t know before they came to OIST.”
PhD student, Ivan Mbogo, from the Evolutionary Neurobiology Unit, has been involved in scientific outreach for several years and strongly encourages other scientists to take part as well.
“It will make them question their work,” he explained. “Whatever we’re doing right now, yes, it can answer questions, but some of the most challenging questions come from non-scientists, such as why we’re doing what we’re doing. Why is it important? Actually, that’s a question that I get all the time.”
Ivan hopes that the pre-recorded video that he was part of may contribute to demystifying science and scientists.
The Community Relations Section plans to look at what events can be run online through 2021, which will allow the scientists of OIST to talk about their research to the community in a safe, socially distanced environment.