For the past year, I’ve been involved with one of the most amazing projects I’ve ever been invited to join, working as senior writer for the Griffith Observatory’s exhibits, set to be unveiled to the public sometime this autumn. The subject is, of course, astronomy, and without giving away too many secrets, it’s safe to say that we cover everything from earth-based astronomy out to the limits of the observable universe. (You can read more about the observatory at the story link under the picture.)
Like just about everybody else in the planetarium community, I’d been aware of Griffith’s place in the domed landscape, but it wasn’t until I got started with the project that I learned more of the history of the place. And, after my first meeting with the curatorial teams advising on the content to be covered in the exhibits, I was hooked by their idea of bringing astronomy to everybody using this “People’s Observatory” to do so. How so??
There’s an easy answer to that: because throughout my career, I’ve always tried to bring astronomy to everybody. I’ve eschewed the jargon and technobabble (which I CAN sling with the best of them when I’m working with scientists who know the language) in all my work. So, “speaking astronomy in plain English” wasn’t exactly unbroken ground for me. But, the challenges of explaining this complex science at a general level, on panels that often didn’t have more than 40 or 50 words on them—that was different.
At some point I’m going to write more about how it all worked—probably later this summer when I’m completely finished with the work. For now, let’s just say that, with astronomy at least, there’s a way to tell the story of the stars—and I want the next person who tells me that finding a way to make our science approachable is just “dumbing it down” to know that telling the story of science is a job we should ALL take seriously. And we should do whatever it takes to learn how to tell that story effectively. That’s what the Griffith experience has reinforced for ME.