For those who wish to spend a night listening to stories under a blanket of stars this evening, look no further than the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
In partnership with The Monti — an organization that specializes in storytelling — and a UNC-Duke collaboration called Scientists with Stories, the Morehead Planetarium will host “The Monti: #ScienceFail” at 7 p.m. Thursday.
The event will feature live storytelling from prominent or budding scientists, including Chancellor Carol Folt and Nobel Prize-winning scientist Oliver Smithies. Along with five other graduate students, they will share anecdotes of science experiments gone wrong.
“The purpose of The Monti is to create a community for telling stories in person,” said Jeff Polish, director of the group. “Stories really unite people.”
As a trained scientist, Polish understands the challenges faced by scientists to communicate with the general audience.
“Many scientists are not very skilled at talking to general audiences,” he said. “I speak both languages, so I can actually help scientists communicate more effectively. I was approached about this idea from Scientists with Stories who are also really interested in helping scientists tell their stories.”
This will be the first time The Monti has organized a storytelling event with a very specific focus: failures in science.
“When you ask a scientist about failure in science, what most people would say is that that’s most of what happens,” he said. “In science most of what goes on is experiments that don’t happen and then you spend the bulk of your time figuring how to make it work.”
Smithies, who won the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 2007, is also the Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor in UNC’s department of pathology and laboratory medicine. He has 60 years worth of experience to share.
“I think it’s important that people should know that very few experiments or investigations in science are really failures,” Smithies said. “They nearly always teach you something about what you didn’t understand or questions that you didn’t realize were there.”
Danny Bowman, a UNC geological sciences graduate student, will offer another perspective as he shares stories about building helium balloons from trash bags as a teenager and camping beside active volcanos.
The overarching message of the event intended by the organizer will be revealed under the dome with projected stars by the end of the night.
“These stories, whether you are interested in science or not, are about exploring human vulnerability and human transformation,” Smithies said.
“We’re all studying failure whether we know it or not because it’s just part of the game as human beings and as scientists.”
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