Tiger Science

Media Fellows project bridges science and media

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Whether you want to read up on the dinosaur sitting in Julian or learn more about the link between Geologists and beer cans, one DePauw student’s blog makes the hard sciences approachable, informative and, sometimes, humorous.

Senior Media Fellow Matt Curran highlighted the DePauw natural sciences’ faculty, students and projects in his senior project titled “Tiger Science.”

Tiger Science is a blog page that Curran curated at the beginning of the spring semester. Each post is about a DePauw professor, his or her work, or a meaningful insight on topics like weather, plants, and viruses, to name a few.

“I’d have conversations about everything from their specific research, to what they’ve done at DePauw, to general things about their field, and sometimes they would go in a random direction,” Curran said. “It [has] been a fun process to...meet some professors and students that I haven’t interacted with as much, as someone who is largely outside of the science departments.”

Curran’s inspiration for Tiger Science came after his public relations internship during his junior year with the Field Museum in Chicago, IL. At the museum, Curran met with scientists to discuss their research and then wrote press releases on their work.

“I liked that interaction because it was with people that I was very much unlike because I’ve never been a science person,” Curran said. “I’ve always been interested in it, but never really knew the hardcore stuff.”

Curran brought his ideas back to DePauw to integrate into his senior year. Curran interviewed many professors, such as Associate Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry Sharon Crary, Ph.D.

In his post “Zen and the Art of Biohazards: Sharon Crary’s work with the Ebola virus and Global Health Efforts,” Curran writes about Crary’s career at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and her research on Ebola and its global health effects.

“He seemed really interested in learning about science and sharing science correctly, which I think is important,” Crary said. “I’m so excited he’s doing that. I feel like we need to encourage more science majors to do that here at DePauw.”

In his post “Why is the Sky so Angry at Me? A Piece on Tornadoes,” Curran writes on his conversation with Geoscience Professor Jim Mills, Ph.D. where they spoke about climate change and tornado preparedness.

Mills says he enjoyed reading Curran’s piece because of its inviting style with well-written content. “It’s very informal, but it’s informative; it's fun, there’s a little touch of humor in there which pulls people in, makes you want to read more,” Mills said. “This is a good way to communicate something that can be sometimes be very dry.”

During the writing process Curran wanted to ensure that his Tiger Science publications would be informative and informal, but accurate as well. “These [professors] are professionals who are really good at what they are doing,” Curran said. “So, I didn’t want to screw up the science behind it, or write it crudely...I wanted to make sure I was doing it [their research] justice.”

Crary says Curran was dedicated to accurately writing about the research and he was effective in getting the information across to readers.

“I thought he wrote with a good tone, but the science was well done and not overdone, he definitely picked and chose what was important to share,” Crary said. “I think that is really hard for scientists to do, we always want to share every fact and every caveat and he did a good job of sharing the important information.”

Curran calls Tiger Science an experimental project where he has continued to learn the best way to craft science-based writing publications for a more public audience. Director of the Media Fellows program Jonathan Nichols-Pethick says Curran has successfully tied his character with professional writing.

“What he’s done is taking something like earthquakes and explaining it in ways that are meaningful, but fun and dynamic,” Nichols-Pethick said. “I think that speaks well about Matt...he’s an honest guy, an earnest guy, and it's very approachable writing.”

Curran hopes that Tiger Science is one step for students to engage in liberal arts even more as they fulfill their distribution requirements. As a first-year student, Curran knew he had to finish his science and math required credits.

“[I thought] ‘well I’m not gonna be a science major, so I should try to get them out of the way, as easy as possible,’” Curran said. “I really regret doing that because...I wish it [the culture] was more of ‘just because you’re not a science major, you shouldn’t run away from these classes.’”

Curran and Nichols-Pethick agree that attempts to understanding science should be something that everyone strives for.

“I think we do it a lot for kids, we have Bill Nye and things like that...and then we sort of stop, and we expect people to take on science as this serious endeavour that it is,” Nichols-Pethick said. “I think this is pitched at adults and college-aged students who aren’t going to be scientists, but [it] gets us thinking about those things.”

Curran says this division of knowledge comes from focusing on a specific industry or career, but encourages people to challenge this and continue to learn about science after their formal education.

“People who work in science for their career, they obviously know all that is going on in the sciences, while people who are working in other industries that aren’t as directly connected to science are kind of out of the loop,” Curran said. “It would be cool to see a greater appreciation of science adopted lifelong by people across disciplines.”

Crary believes that science writing in simpler terms should be a growing career, and collaborating between departments is the best way to create this bridge.

“We’ve got a great communications department and great sciences, we really ought to be bringing up students to do that [science writing],” Crary said. “I was really excited to see that he [Matt] came to that all on his own, and that he’s doing a good job with it.”

Mills agrees with Crary that more people should connect science and everyday readers, and Tiger Science is an example of this.

“We just have to have people who can take in a lot of this hard science…and write it up for the layman who hasn’t got a lot of background in this, and be able to communicate...and express why this is important,” Mills said. “He bridged that gap really beautifully.”