Scientists take inspiration from poetry and welcome science slams

Physicist Herbi Dreiner has written a very engaging piece on Science Slams in his July 11, 2013 posting for the Guardian science blogs. This is how he describes a Science Slam,

Recently I was standing on a stage in Dortmund, Germany. The setting was fabulous, the Stahlhalle of the DASA, the German research organization for safety in industrial work places. I know, it sounds tax-office-kind-of boring, but imagine an arched 10m high ceiling, huge defunct steel production devices around the stage in professional bluish-pink lighting, an intermediate level overlooking the hall with a small jazz band, 300 people in the audience and a lively bar in the back. Deep-breath-kind-of Wow!

A slam, whether it’s poetry or science, is a performance cum sporting event. The scientist or poet gives a 10 minute performance which the audience rates (organizers gauge the amount of applause, hoots, hollers, etc.) and winners are declared and prizes, if there are any, are disbursed. Science slams got their start in Germany by poet Alex Deppec in 2006, from the Science slam Wikipedia essay (Note: Links and footnotes have been removed),

A Science Slam is a scientific talk where scientists  present their own scientific research  work in a given time frame – usually 10 minutes – in front of a non-expert audience. The focus lies on teaching current science  to a diverse audience in an entertaining way. The presentation is judged by the audience. A science slam is a form of science communication.

The prototype of the Science Slams is the Poetry Slam. In the end of 2006 Poetry Slammer Alex Dreppec founded it in Darmstadt (Germany). Since 2008 it has become very popular in Germany. Since 2010 it has become popular internationally as well.

The Wikipedia lists at least some  of the countries that have jumped on the ‘Science Slam’ wagon,

  • Germany (founded there)
  • Austria
  • Chile
  • Denmark
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • Indonesia
  • Netherlands
  • Russia
  • South Africa
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

The essay provides links to the science slam organizations in the various countries.

Getting back to Dreiner’s description of his most recent Science Slam experience (he functioned as the opening act  not one of the competitors),

Since March, 2011, I had been giving public talks about the Fukushima nuclear accident and thought it was the obvious topic. It was clear it would be of interest, but not really a laughing matter. I had a breakthrough riding home on my bike. I decided not to use slides, and instead to take you right into the heart of the reactor, highlighting the physics principles of the accident through simple reenactment. I represented the fuel rods myself, with a lab coat as the zirc alloy encasing. The audience helped me with water pistols (cooling mechanism), a pea shooter (neutrons for the chain reaction) and a tea kettle with a toy pinwheel for the generated steam and turbines. My main goal was to bring across the distinction between the nuclear chain reaction and radioactive decays. …

I encourage you to read Dreiner’s entire description and for those of you who are interested in exploring science slams further, here’s the LUUPS Science Slam webpage (you will need your German language skills) in addition to the listings you’ll find in the Wikipedia essay. You will also need German language skills for Alex Dreppec’s (the person who launched Science Slams) poetry performance (video below) and his own website,

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