Explaining quantum mechanics to girls in bars
It’s a common problem, but one not often discussed by science blogs… A good-looking and talented scientist/blogger is in a bar, about to order a drink. It’s taking some time to get served so said blogger starts a conversation with a girl at the bar.
They make eye-contact, she smiles, they make a subtle connection until, ever so delicately, they step into the minefield as she asks, “so what do you do?”.
At this point, the scientist/blogger knows he can lose this most fragile shard of an opportunity if he doesn’t tread carefully. Option one is to invent an exotic career; taxidermy is pretty unusual, and he may be able to work in a chat up line about stuffing Castor canadensis.
The big problem with invented careers is the potential for a specific skill to be tested (whether it’s as a concert pianist or Hollywood stuntman). So, deciding to take the honest path, he replies;
I’m a scientist…
- Oh really? What kind of Scientist?
- Really? Wow (pause) What sort of thing specifically?
Here’s the trap of the follow-up question. It doesn’t just apply to girls in bars, but any time a scientist meets anybody. People are genuinely interested in what you do, but how to sum up a project at the cutting edge of research to someone you meet on a bus?
Whether your aim is just to explain science or make closer acquaintances, it’s vital to stimulate that initial interest inherent in the question.
So, you could talk about far-from equilibrium pattern formation on chemically functionalised silicon surfaces, or try to pick something more generally interesting from your field.
In social situations, realistically it’s only possible or necessary to get one new idea across. In physics at the quantum scale, there are ideas so weird that they kept Einstein awake at night, so it’s impossible to explain it all. From the point of view of spreading science, then all too often scientists are crap at explaining what they do simply because they throw in far too much detail.
From a social standpoint, show enthusiasm for the subject, engage with the “audience”, buy a beer, and let the conversation move on.
Apologies for the very delayed post today- I was travelling back from Barcelona. Thanks to @bernardamus for the phrase, “shards of opportunities”.Explaining nano comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.