2021 Conference

Communicating the Future: Engaging the Public in Basic Science

July 27-28, 2021

Day 1

Tuesday, July 27, 2021


8:00 AM (PDT)

Communicating basic science: engaging scientists, engaging the public 

As part of a unique federal-philanthropy initiative, the Department of Energy and The Kavli Foundation have committed to a joint exploration of why and how scientists share their passion for basic research with members of the public at large. Leaders from this initiative will discuss the genesis of the project, plans for this conference, and expectations of how the conference will inform public engagement with basic science.


  • Rick Borchelt, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Erika Shugart, National Science Teaching Association
  • Brooke Smith, The Kavli Foundation



8:30 AM (PDT)

What is public engagement in science? 

What exactly do we mean when we call for “public engagement” with basic science? This session will trace the history of public engagement in science programs, unpack why it is difficult to construct a single definition of public engagement, and explore the general categories of public engagement found in science communication.

Speaker: Bruce Lewenstein, Cornell University


  • Ann Bartuska, Resources for the Future
  • Jayatri Das, Franklin Institute
  • Kirsten Ellenbogen, Great Lakes Science Center

Moderator: Nanci Bompey, American Geophysical Union

Concurrent Sessions

9:25 AM (PDT)

How does the broader public view basic science? 

Basic scientific research is a critical component of the innovative STEM ecosystem. What do Americans think about basic science, and what are some potential obstacles when trying to communicate the value of basic research as part of larger scientific engagement programs?

Speaker: Chris Volpe, Science Counts


  • Céleste Frazier Barthel, Oregon State University
  • Clio Heslop, University of Texas, Austin

Moderator: Rebecca Thompson, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory


Do we need to anchor communication about basic research to its potential for future applications? 

Basic research is usually framed as scientific exploration for the sake of knowledge, driven by curiosity rather than specific application. Yet communicators typically frame the importance of basic research only in the context of applications rather than the importance of the basic research itself. Do we always need to ground public engagement with basic science in its potential applications?


  • Marley Jarvis, University of Washington
  • Katie McKissick, The Kavli Foundation
  • Ben Shouse, Government Accountability Office
  • Barbara Theirs, New York Botanical Garden

Moderator:  Sara Yeo, University of Utah


What does two-way communication look like for basic science? 

Mutual learning, bidirectional engagement, and two-way communication in science are terms often used to describe public-centered models of engagement, yet by any measure — relative to applied science and technology — we seldom apply these symmetric models to engagement with basic science. In this session we will explore examples of bidirectional communication in basic science.


  • Ivvet Abdullah-Modinou, Simons Foundation
  • Greg Bowman, Washington University at St. Louis
  • Sarah Garlick, Hubbard Brook Research Foundation

Moderator: Raj Pandya, Thriving Earth Exchange


What did we learn about needs in public engagement by organizing this conference? 

The conference design reflects what the leadership team and steering committee learned from the development of landscape studies, review of abstracts, and conversations with experts and innovators in the field. This session will look under the hood to reveal the fascinating realizations, opportunities, tensions, and knowledge deserts identified in the conference design.


  • Karen Andrade, Science Philanthropy Alliance
  • John Besley, Michigan State University
  • Todd Newman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Gail Porter, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Moderator: Matthew VanDyke, the University of Alabama


10:50 AM (PDT)

Exploring the relationship between basic science and the public

This session will explore the social context surrounding basic science, including societal perspectives that are relevant to how basic science is done and who does it. It will explore common assumptions, (mis)perceptions, and motivations of scientists, science communicators, and members of the public.

Speaker: Shobita Parthasarathy, University of Michigan


  • Marta Entradas, London School of Economics
  • Leslie Krohn, Argonne National Laboratory
  • Susan Renoe, Missouri School of Journalism

Moderator: Samuel Dyson, Science in Society Funder Collaborative

Concurrent Sessions

1:10 PM (PDT)

Why do federal agencies communicate about basic research? 

As the largest funders of basic science, governmental agencies have a major role to play in communicating the work they support to the taxpaying public. Representatives from various U.S. federal agencies will discuss their motivations for communicating about basic research.

Speaker: Kei Koizumi, Office of Science and Technology Policy


  • Allison Eckhardt, Department of Energy
  • Josh Chamot, National Science Foundation
  • Barbara Mattson, National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Moderator: Amanda Greenwell, National Science Foundation


Meet people where they are, or invite them over?

The science-interested public has many opportunities to learn about and engage with science, whether watching science-focused TV programming, visiting a museum, or attending a science-themed event. What do we (and don’t we) know about how to communicate basic science beyond the science-interested members of the public? In this session we will explore how and when to draw people to science, vs. bringing science to parts of other settings and cultural events.


  • Paula Croxson, Columbia University
  • Deepti Pradhan, Yale University
  • Mark Rosin: Guerilla Science

Moderator: Ben Wiehe, MIT Museum


Why do scientists engage the public in basic science?

This session will explore social science research on scientists’ motivations to do public engagement and the factors that influence their motivations, including the interplay between individual motivation and creating inclusive spaces to engage the public.

Speaker: Nichole Bennett, University of Texas, Austin


  • Paige Jarreau, LifeOmic
  • Todd Newman, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Mohamed Noor, Duke University

Moderator: Adam Fagen, Association of Science and Technology Centers


How can public relations contribute to public engagement with basic science? 

Public relations scholars and practitioners have varied conceptual and operational definitions for public engagement. In addition, more work is needed to fully articulate how research and practice in public engagement with basic science should advance at different levels (e.g., with individual scientists, research institutions and science organizations, and the science enterprise) and in different formats (e.g., social and digital media vs. traditional media). This panel focuses on the ideas that public relations theory can contribute to our understanding of public engagement with basic science, and opportunities in theory and practice for advancing our understanding of public engagement with basic science.


  • Jeong-Nam Kim, University of Oklahoma
  • Katherine McComas, Cornell University
  • Katherine Rowan, George Mason University
  • Maureen Taylor, University of Technology Sydney

Moderator: Nicole Lee, Arizona State University


2:00 pM (PDT)

What sparks curiosity, wonder, and awe?

Basic scientists often mention that they are motivated to share their work because they want to convey the wonder and awe of their research and fuel curiosity. This session will cover the current state of knowledge — and frontier of research — from the social sciences about human curiosity, wonder,awe, and similar emotions. It will also explore whether scientists sharing their stories to elicit wonder and awe is an appropriate approach for engaging the public in basic science.


  • Tania Lombrozo, Princeton University
  • Daniel Silva Luna, University of Otago


  • Jeanne Garbarino, RockEDU Science Outreach
  • David Kirby, California Polytechnic University

Moderator:  Sara Yeo, University of Utah

Day 2

Wednesday, July 28, 2021


8:00 AM (PDT)

How can we ensure public engagement in basic science is equitable and inclusive?

Equitable public engagement requires elevating different ways of knowing, developing tools to build culturally appropriate science communication strategies, and understanding the nuances of engagement of basic science with populations frequently left out of these efforts. This session will be a facilitated discussion that will touch on the importance of addressing exclusion and disenfranchisement among both scientists and members of the public, especially in the communication of basic science.

Speaker & Moderator: Raj Pandaya, Thriving Earth Exchange


  • Monica Felieu-Mojer, Ciencia Puerto Rico
  • Beronda Montgomery, Michigan State University
  • Kyle Whyte, University of Michigan
  • Edna Tan, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

Concurrent Sessions

9:50 AM (PDT)

Curiosity, wonder, and awe in science engagement: a deeper dive 

In a moderated conversation, speakers from the plenary session, “What sparks curiosity, wonder, and awe?” will discuss the topics that emerged, respond to comments and queries from the SciPEP audience, and address remaining questions: What do we know (and not know) about curiosity, wonder, or awe in science engagement, and what further research is needed? What have people’s experiences been with engagement where these emotions are present? What are the pros and cons of thinking of these emotions as important to science communication and public engagement?


  • Jeanne Garbarino, RockEDU
  • Tania Lombrozo, Princeton University
  • Daniel Silva Luna, University of Ontago

Moderator: Sarah Davies, University of Vienna


What are the effects of societal controversy on the communication of basic science?

Basic scientific breakthroughs deepen our understanding of ourselves, our world, our universe, and beyond. While they have the potential to benefit humanity, they also have the potential to raise ethical issues and spark controversy. The discovery of nuclear fission, recombinant DNA, CRISPR-Cas 9, and brain organoids are just a few examples from basic science that raise important societal questions. Some scientists will find themselves facing an engagement imperative – ensuring the public is aware of, and engaged in, discussions about the implications of groundbreaking discoveries like these. How should scientists prepare for this? What are their responsibilities? What partners exist to help navigate the societal discussions about these issues? This session will explore these thorny issues.


  • Mikhaila Calice, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Megan Hochstrasser, Innovative Genomics Institute
  • Alysson Muotri, University of California, San Diego

Moderator: David Sittenfeld, Museum of Science


What is the impact of public deference to scientific authority? 

Democratic deliberation and public engagement are critical elements of decision-making and policy formulation. What is the role and nature of scientific authority in shaping and informing policy? This session explores the intersection of deference to scientific authority, deliberative democracy, and public understanding of science and technology.

Speaker: Emily Howell, University of Wisconsin-Madison


  • Ubaka Ogbogu, University of Alberta
  • Eric Kennedy, York University

Moderator: Erika Shugart, National Science Teaching Association


How are justice and equity taken into consideration for public engagement training?

Communication and public engagement training has traditionally lacked diversity, inclusivity, and equity. The communication training community is working to understand and change this. This session will explore how justice and equity are taken into consideration in training, and what more needs done when supporting basic scientists to develop the communication and engagement skills they need.


  • Alexandra Canet, Wellcome Connecting Science
  • Katherine Carter, National Center for Science Education
  • Alberto Roca, DiverseScholar 

Moderator: Chloe Poston, Institute for Learning Innovation


How do we know if we are making a difference? 

Description: What does “making a difference” mean for public engagement in basic science? What do we know and not know about how to measure and communicate whether we make a difference? Join noted communication scholars and practitioners to discuss monitoring and evaluating public engagement efforts, accomplishments, and impact.

Speaker: Eric A Jensen, University of Warwick


  • John Besley, Michigan State University
  • Sylvia Leathem, I-Form
  • Karen Peterman,  Karen Peterman Consulting

Moderator: Christine Reich, Museum of Science, Boston


11:35 AM (PDT)

From ribosomes to revolution: a scientist’s reflections on the life cycle of public engagement in basic research

This conversation between Nobel and Kavli Prize Laureate Jennifer Doudna and NPR’s Joe Palca will explore the challenges, opportunities, and responsibilities of a basic scientist committed to engaging the public. We will hear about Dr. Doudna’s experiences throughout her career, including personal stories about how to prepare for interactions with the public, from the press to religious groups. The conversation promises to touch on many themes identified throughout the conference, including the social context surrounding basic science, engaging the public in discovery science without known applications, and engaging the public in controversial issues born from ground-breaking scientific discoveries.

Introduction: Brooke Smith, The Kavli Foundation

Speaker: Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley

Correspondent: Joe Palca, National Public Radio 



1:00 pM (PDT)

How do we move forward from here?

An astrophysicist, a political scientist, and science journalist turned college dean walk into a public engagement conference, and… what comes next? These thought leaders will reflect on the conference and look to the future, including identifying research gaps and resource needs for the future of communicating basic science.


  • Mariette DiChristina, Boston University
  • Brian Nord, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory
  • Roger Pielke Jr., University of Colorado



2:30 pM (PDT)

Making science fun(ny) with Science! The Show

Science! The Show is a live science and comedy project that uses comedy, games, and personalization to connect scientists with the public. The team will share their process for transforming a science lecture into a participatory, fun-filled demonstration.


  • Russell Cohen-Hoffing
  • Dylan Farr
  • Alex Shifman



SciPEP: a look to the future of public engagement on basic science

3:00 pM (PDT)

The SciPEP leadership team looks back on the conference and how it will set the table for future discussions of engagement in basic science and what resources our community needs to do it well.


  • Rick Borchelt, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Erika Shugart, National Science Teaching Association
  • Brooke Smith, The Kavli Foundation