SFU Faculty of Science Celebrates Excellence in Science Outreach

July 24, 2023
Starry Nights at the SFU Trottier Observatory and Science Courtyard. Photo by Martin Curic

Nominations are now open for the SFU Faculty of Science Excellence in Science Public Engagement and Outreach Awards.

These annual awards recognize SFU faculty, staff and students who dedicate their time to communicating scientific research to the public and policymakers, through a diverse range of outreach activities.

“Our number one objective is to celebrate achievements and contributions of the people involved in outreach,” says SFU Science outreach manager Cynthia Henson.

“A lot of our presenters are engaging with the public because they enjoy it. You can see the fire in them when they share and entertain questions, and reach people at a personal level. That’s the part that I would like the community to see.”

“Some of my earliest memories are of my grandfather showing me the night sky through his telescope at the lakeshore of his cottage,” says Matthew Cimone, who received a 2022 Staff Outreach Award for numerous contributions to the Trottier Observatory and boundless enthusiasm for public engagement at events such as Starry Nights.

“He made me feel connected to endless possibilities and showed me that I was a part of an incredible cosmos. We're all connected through the stars. That is our shared heritage.”

Cimone seeks to share that feeling with every person he engages with. “That look of wonder and awe on somebody's face when they look through the scope and see the rings of Saturn is universal,” he says, and has the power to overcome cultural and language barriers.

Biological Sciences PhD student and Student Outreach Award recipient Em Lim has shared their marine conservation expertise in public outreach programming at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and conferences, and through podcasts and social media. They are an enthusiastic champion of iNaturalist, a community science app that helps members of the public learn to identify plants and animals, while contributing to scientific research.

“There are few feelings that rival the excitement of discovering something new for the first time, and being able to share that with someone is a gift,” they say. “There are a lot of benefits to doing it, but honestly, it’s just super fun!”

“Conducting science outreach as a queer, non-binary person means I’m also an ambassador for the LGBTQ+ community wherever I go. It is deeply rewarding to see my openness and confidence create an environment where students feel safer in their identities and I hope it helps encourage younger folks like me to pursue careers in science.”

In 2021 the Faculty of Science began recognizing faculty who use their research to engage with communities and government to shape public policy.

“I am a strong advocate for science and information in environmental decision making and policy,” says Biological Sciences professor Jonathan Moore, who received a 2022 Outreach Award for Science Communication and Policy Impact.

“At times, environmental policy may not be evidence-based, but rather be evidence-resistant. My group and I have aimed to bring clear and impactful science and its communication to these situations.”

Through a strategic portfolio of reports, op-eds, policy briefs and presentations Moore and his Salmon Watersheds Lab have worked to communicate their research with the public, community leaders and decision makers to change the conversation on watershed conservation and influence policy change.

What makes a good science communicator?

We asked our 2022 award recipients for their tips on how to engage with the public.

“Try to use clear, jargon-free language without making anyone feel like you’re talking down to them!” says Lim. “You’re not “dumbing it down,” you’re just being a good communicator, and often, explaining things without jargon is a great exercise in making sure YOU understand the concept fully.”

“I love trying to share the stories behind the science,” Moore adds. “Scientists often talk about numbers or ideas, but behind these data are stories—stories of people, of triumph, or sadness, or adventure, or humor. And so stories of science can bring the science to life.”

“If you're a good storyteller, you're insatiably curious, and the things you learn fill you to the brim so much you want to share,” Cimone says, “you can be a great science communicator.”

Excellence in Science Public Engagement and Outreach Award nominations are open until August 15, 2023. Visit SFU Science Outreach to learn how to nominate someone you know.