Your Weekly Dose of Whoa!
Episode 2: The Sun
“They’re just like little pieces of glitter.”
A romantic moment turned into an awkward conversation about science, and a wake up call for me about the gap in science literacy in America.
It was 2010, and after growing up and finishing college on the West Coast, I was now
in my fifth year of being a TV news reporter in the Deep South. I was well-acclimated
to the cultural differences by then, and nothing seemed to surprise me…until that
My date and I were cuddling up under the stars, about to share our first kiss. I said, “Wow. It’s so cool to think of the worlds out there. Some of those stars are as big as our sun. And if anyone is looking back at us, we look just like a little star to them.”
My date replied, “What do you mean? They’re just stars. They’re tiny.”
I replied, “Well, yeah, to us. But if you were to take a rocket ship to one of those stars, how big do you think it would be?”
“What do you mean? Like, smaller than my finger. They’re just like little pieces of glitter.”
Six years later in 2016, the rapper B.o.B caught flack on Twitter when he claimed the Earth is flat. While many laughed at his lack of knowledge, I actually felt bad for him. Is it possible that B.o.B’s middle school and high school in Decatur, Georgia didn’t have the same science education I took for granted in suburban Seattle? Beyond high school, if Americans aren’t seeking out science on their own, when will they encounter it?
One year later in 2017, I launched “Your Weekly Dose of Whoa!” for the FOX and NBC local TV news audiences in Lafayette, Louisiana. I wanted to make the case that the revelations of science are far more fascinating than any conspiracy theory we humans can create ourselves. And after drawing viewers in with the “beauty” of science in Episode 1, I wanted to “blow minds” and pump up the wonder in Episode 2, starting with one of the most fundamental things we all share an intimate relationship with: the Sun.
Some key points I wanted to get across in this second episode:
- I wanted to speak in a tone of genuine curiosity throughout.
I feel we science communicators are at our best when we can inspire curiosity in our audience by embodying it ourselves.
- The chronological images of the sun from the 1960s to the 1990s.
A build-up of contrast in visual storytelling can be powerful. Every time I watch this episode back, I always feel a sense of awe seeing that 1960s black and white image transition two frames later to the red, detailed sun on the 1990s image. That transition alone tells the story of the amazing advances in science in a short period of time. And then the signature moving image hits.
- My remark, “That’s the sun. That’s the thing I feel on my arm in the morning.”
Bringing things back to the beautiful and the intimate.
- My look to the camera and “Whoa!” at the end.
What more can you say? Look-back time (the phenomenon explaining the delay in the sun’s appearance) is simply mind-blowing
to think about. It can leave viewers feeling scared, confused, overwhelmed, etc. I
didn’t want to shy away from the “daunting” feelings of the universe in “Your Weekly
Dose of Whoa!”, but I wanted to make sure I showcased a healthy attitude with which
to take them in.
As science communicators, our emotional reaction to the information we present may end up being how our audience walks away feeling about science. Let’s be warm, and not cold. Let’s have human reactions, as opposed to being unaffected and distant. Let your audience feel your passion in your voice and in your eyes.
And let’s not assume that basic concepts, like the sun, the stars, or the shape of our planet, are understood by all. Perhaps instead of simply correcting an alternative view to science with the facts, let’s celebrate the beauty and the awe the science illuminates. In terms of pure captivation alone, the stories of the natural world are on our side.