London

Local scientists share their research, one sidewalk at a time

The Royal Canadian Institute of Science is inviting scientists across Canada to share their research using nothing more than some chalk and a spot on the sidewalk.

If you're self-isolating or don't want to leave your home, you can create a window display

In London, Astrophysicist Parshati Patel, educational outreach and communications specialist at the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration at Western, is bringing sidewalk science to her neighbourhood. (Submitted: Parshati Patel)

The Royal Canadian Institute (RCI) of Science is inviting scientists across the country to share their research with neighbours using nothing more than a spot on the sidewalk and a piece of chalk. 

In London, astrophysicist Parshati Patel, educational outreach and communications specialist at the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration at Western University, is bringing the 'sidewalk science' program to her neighbourhood. 

She started off with a simple introduction and invited her neighbours to ask questions about the planets and stars. 

A day later, Patel had five questions waiting for her on the sidewalk. 

A chance to ask questions

"It was very well received. People were really excited that there is an initiative like this, especially in times when kids have kind of missed going to school."

One of the reasons Patel believes the program has been so well received is because of the anonymity that comes with asking questions. 

People are often hesitant to ask questions, but in this type of scenario no names are used, Patel said. 

This anonymity allows them to put down a question and not feel nervous about it, she added. 

The Royal Canadian Institute (RCI) of Science is inviting scientists across Canada to share their research with neighbours using some chalk and a spot on the sidewalk. Among those scientists is London's Astrophysicist Parshati Patel. (Submitted: Parshati Patel)

Another reason Patel thought to participate in sidewalk science was so she could offer a helping hand to parents. 

"Parents right now are reaching out to experts to get their questions answered because now instead of a teacher they are the ones getting all of those questions."

Given the positive response, Patel plans on continuing this engagement with her neighbourhood throughout the summer. 

Sharing science during a pandemic

RCI Science typically hosts in-person events where scientists can showcase their research, but most events have been moved online because of the pandemic. 

London Astrophysicist Parshati Patel says people are often hesitant to ask questions, but in this type of scenario people are able to put down a question without leaving their names, ridding them of any nervousness. (Submitted: Parshati Patel)

"Scientists, many of us love to communicate, but we don't always know how. We don't always have a platform to do it. Well, here's a nice simple platform: just go out and draw a chalk drawing of the last experiment you did," said Kirsten Vanstone, executive director of RCI Science.

The institute was inspired by the many families who have used sidewalk drawings to lift people's spirits during the pandemic, she said. 

RCI Science hopes to raise the profile of scientists across Canada and have fun while doing so. 

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