Artistic Storytelling in Science CommunicationVictoria Ko discusses the importance of science communication and techniques to actively engage an audience through creativity and storytelling.
I wistfully recalled my favorite family outings to science museums, especially California Academy of Sciences, Exploratorium, and Griffith Observatory. My curiosity led me to tide pool exhibits, watching wide-eyed as sea urchin spines hugged my fingers in search of potential food. Whether the planetarium shows virtually transported me to our endless universe or towering redwoods or Philippine coral reefs, these museums nourished my own passion for science.
Central to the Huang Fellows program is the skill of science communication: from interdisciplinary podcasts to designing kits for children to presenting our novel, cutting-edge research results at our poster session. Science communication is the basis for empowering current and future generations of science, but how exactly do we do it? Dr. Ariana Eily articulated how we can use storytelling techniques to enhance science communication.
While a graduate student in Duke’s Cell and Molecular Biology program, Dr. Eily curated “The Art of a Scientist,” which is now on its 3rd year! The newest exhibit—RENEWAL—opens on July 15 in Smith Warehouse. This will have to be our next Huang Fellows trip! Science is most exciting when we can engage and interact with it directly: the avenue of art and storytelling makes science accessible to all audiences. A recurring theme in the Huang Fellows seminars is that different experiences can lend skills to seemingly unrelated fields, like Buz’s method acting being used to present a case. In fact, Dr. Eily’s experience with science communication began on the improv stage! The best storytellers can make their audience see and feel their stories through (1) structure and (2) character.
We returned to the basics with the fundamental structural parts of a story: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. In science, character is usually lacking. Rather than presenting a stack of facts, integrate charisma, dynamic action, and find places for the audience to connect with the topic or research. We practiced these skills in real time as we paired up with podcast partners to design our outlines. Who are the characters at play? It’s all about taking the base story and modifying it stylistically to add new meaning and perspective. We can streamline this process by applying the ABT model: And, But, Therefore. The And provides background, introduction, and necessary details. But brings the issue, urgency, and tension into play. Therefore gives the satisfying resolution, or more commonly in science, the “so what” and future steps. While we applied this to our podcast topics ranging from science references in TV to the personification of cells in biological systems, we realized that science communication is an art: it requires creativity, passion, and thinking outside the box.
I had to use my imaginative side as I volunteered at CalAcademy as Teen Advocate for Science Communication to raise awareness for dying reefs and the climate crisis. To lighten the mood on this serious issue, I used my cheerful side to appeal to people of all ages and dressed up as Garibaldi Damselfish, Wolf Eels, & other coastal critters while acting out their characteristics to engage museum-goers. Employing this scalable educational approach amplifies the influence I make. My contagious excitement rippled beyond my San Franciscan bubble, touching the hearts of countless visitors who brought back shared enthusiasm for sustainability to their hometowns.
One of my guiding principles during my time as a Teen Advocate was perfectly stated by Dr. Eily: “Unfold it, Don’t Dump it.” Be compelling, concise, and relatable. Always think to yourself: is this detail essential? What message do you want the audience to walk away with? When Dr. Eily taught high school students at North Carolina School of Science and Math, she utilized various storytelling frameworks. Even when teaching a very complex idea like Molecular Biology, Dr. Eily was able to simplify the concepts and spark students’ curiosity by using frameworks like the Dobzhansky template.
Dobzhansky is one of the most influential scientists to the field of evolutionary genetics and biology. In Genetics and Evolution Biology 202, we learned about his famous incompatibility model occurring from speciation. He wisely stated, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” Applying this to her own research, Dr. Eily explained the relationship between fern Azolla and its cyanobacteria inhabitant, Nostoc azollae: “Nothing in symbiosis makes sense except in light of communication.” This catchphrase is particularly memorable considering her research interests lie in communication, not only between humans, but also between organisms in a mutualistically beneficial manner.
The symbiosis that exists from science communication allows us to become better scientists through enhancing our creativity while also empowering others with passion for scientific knowledge. As we create our science podcasts, we have effective and engaging strategies to present our stories. Dr. Eily will also return to evaluate our science kit presentations later in the Huang Fellows summer experience. By presenting to so many different age groups in different mediums, we have a flexible and compelling basis to artistically approach science.
Victoria Ko, Huang Fellow ’26
Victoria Ko is a first-year student from San Francisco, CA, intending to double major in Chemistry and Biology.