From Schmidt Ocean Institute: “The Importance of Storytelling in Science Communication”

From Schmidt Ocean Institute

June 14, 2019
Abrian Curington

When I first set off on the journey to seek space rocks, my focus was simple: I had a viable plan to collect details of our trip, plot them out with points of interest and wrap it all together with a theme. But the interesting thing about research and testing – whether in the sciences or the arts – is that it will utterly reshape your entire world for the better, if you let it.

You enter an experiment with a hypothesis and a method, but where you end and venture to inbetween is another story. In our expedition, we knew where probability and modeling told the science team the meteorites should be, and they knew what method of retrieval they intended to use. The tests happened, new retrieval instruments were made overnight, and the results harvested some new material to foster more experimentation. Perhaps not the intended result set forth by the initial theory, but exploration is like that: you end up in places you may not have even dreamed.

How My Research Changed Me

Speaking of dreams, I certainly did not realize that my fun, illustrated maps would ever land me aboard a research vessel, and I am still elated to have been given the opportunity. My research took the form of collecting information, experiences, and stories; meeting people and understanding what role they play in the functioning of the vessel. After reading over all of my notes, and thinking about the trip as a whole, I realized that I was missing the true narrative: the individuals and their experiences. I decided to depict a series of stories that made up our journey, rather than the route itself.

Dr. Betsy Pugel stores samples of seafloor sediment and water with will be used to test methods and approaches for identifying life on other planets. Student intern Elisa and artist in residence Abrian Curington identify biological samples such as coal and trees. Linda Welzenbach Fries

The Importance of Art

Most artists, especially those who champion the lighter side of storytelling, tend to be at odds with what their work can really bring to the world. If you are not highlighting deep, emotional, controversial topics, how are you really helping? Of course, making people happy is supremely important, but even in realizing that, there is often the question of “Are we?” Are we actually bringing joy to people with our stories and artwork?

I have to say that I actually saw joy in action while showing around the linework for this map. When people recognized moments in my piece of art that they lived through (and usually laughed through), I could see the spark ignite as the memory dawned, and they world laugh anew. That is the power of joyful storytelling.

This is also why communicating science in an enjoyable, memorable way is so important. When we can attach a positive value to a piece of information, it makes it more substantial in our minds, and we retain the information for a longer period of time. It means more to us than something to memorize from a flashcard. This is a lesson I will carry with me as I return to my shore life and move forward, using storytelling to unite people far and wide.

As an aside, I am also incredibly proud of myself for remembering almost 40 names in under two weeks!

Many thanks to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, the Falkor team, NASA, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary and the various on shore institutions that came together to make this trip possible. I am eternally grateful.

Artist-at-Sea Abrian Curington’s work based on the “Seeking Space Rocks” expedition.

See the full article here .


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The world’s oceans understood through technological advancement, intelligent observation, and open sharing of information.

Schmidt Ocean Institute RV Falkor

Schmidt Ocean Institute ROV Subastian

Schmidt Ocean Institute is a 501(c)(3) private non-profit operating foundation established in March 2009 to advance oceanographic research, discovery, and knowledge, and catalyze sharing of information about the oceans.

Since the Earth’s oceans are a critically endangered and least understood part of the environment, the Institute dedicates its efforts to their comprehensive understanding across intentionally broad scope of research objectives.

Eric and Wendy Schmidt established Schmidt Ocean Institute in 2009 as a seagoing research facility operator, to support oceanographic research and technology development focusing on accelerating the pace in ocean sciences with operational, technological, and informational innovations. The Institute is devoted to the inspirational vision of our Founders that the advancement of technology and open sharing of information will remain crucial to expanding the understanding of the world’s oceans.