You too can be a scientist if you think about it

CENTURIES ago, science was the preserve of a few European men. Those days are over, and scientific work is now done by millions of women and men across the world.

There are activities in the National Museum of Scotland every day during Edinburgh International Science Festival. Picture: Toby Williams

Despite this, the time is right for a better dialogue about science, and a new definition of who scientists are. Recently, I was lucky enough to be awarded the University of Edinburgh’s Tam Dalyell Prize for Excellence in Engaging the Public with Science.

All the previous winners were professors, actively involved in research.

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My job is communicating science to the public, which I do through events such as the Midlothian Science Festival. I have not undertaken scientific research for 20 years. I wondered whether I could call myself a scientist – but then I decided to broaden my view of what a scientist is.

We may think of science being learned at school, but I believe it begins in early childhood. All children are natural scientists. They can be encouraged to be curious, to ask questions, and figure things out. Later, they can be encouraged to ask for evidence of theories or claims, and to search online for evidence, as professional scientists do.

All great scientists retain their curiosity, making links across disciplines, exploring and searching for evidence.

However, many people have these qualities and think this way, but neither work as scientists nor have science qualifications.

Maybe this should be our new definition of a scientist: anyone who is prepared to think like this. These qualities can be encouraged in people of all ages, and science festivals are the ideal opportunity for this.

Anyone can become involved in research through citizen science projects. Examples include Project Moon Zoo, in which amateurs help astronomers study the moon’s surface.

So get thinking like a scientist: stay curious, explore and figure things out, demand the evidence for claims, read about research and take part in citizen science projects that interest you.

• Sarah Keer-Keer is outreach manager for the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology, University of Edinburgh and a director of Midlothian Science Festival. The University of Edinburgh has activities in the National Museum of Scotland every day during the Edinburgh International Science Festival, which runs until 19 April.