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Grad students train to communicate science

Kathryn McGill
Kathryn McGill presents her poster a the Communicating Science Conference.

You may have heard of the $10 billion particle accelerator in Switzerland or icebergs melting in the Arctic. But do you know what happens in the laboratory benches and supercomputing clusters of Cornell? Kathryn McGill and Flip Tanedo think you should – and they are working to make sure you do.

McGill and Tanedo, young scientists studying condensed matter physics and theoretical particle physics, respectively, represented Cornell at the Communicating Science Conference (ComSciCon) in Cambridge, Mass., in June. They were chosen to participate in the conference from a nationwide pool of Ph.D. and master’s students across all fields of science and engineering. More than 700 applied for the 50 spots.

If the word “scientist” makes you think of Sheldon Cooper from CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” think again. McGill, Tanedo and the other ComSciCon participants are on a path more like the late Carl Sagan – talented scientists with a knack for helping others understand what makes their research so fascinating.

 McGill and Tanedo were invited to the workshop in recognition of their devotion to making scientific research more accessible to the general public. McGill operates a YouTube channel, The Physics Factor, where she illustrates research in physics through interviews and skits. Tanedo has been a contributor to the Quantum Diaries blog, explaining the experiments being done at the Large Hadron Collider.

As participants in the conference, McGill and Tanedo interacted with the other young science communicators from across the country as well as 21 professional leaders in the field. The professional experts included authors, journalists from The New York Times, Wired and others, and even science fiction writers.

 Each participant also wrote an original news piece during the event, and a number of popular science-focused outlets will be publishing their work this summer.

The Communicating Science Conference was sponsored by Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Microsoft Corp.

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John Carberry