Science Outreach

The importance of getting involved: 15×4 Munich – All for Science and Science for All

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Shejhar Kaul giving a talk at 15x4 Munich

Science communication is an issue close to my heart and when I floated the idea of giving a talk on quantum mechanics and nobody vehemently shut me up, I was rather excited. A while ago, a friend introduced me to 15X4 Munich, a science communication forum conceptualized to bring science to the masses. It was the brainchild of a few young Ukrainians, which has now taken shape in many different cities, Munich being one of them. The core team at 15X4 Munich are a dedicated lot who scourge the city for prospective speakers. On the day of the event, there are 4 speakers and each one is given 15 minutes to deliver their talk. When I first accompanied my friend to one of these events, he was scheduled to give a talk. I was one among an audience of 50-60 people and I can safely say that all of us enjoyed listening to these enthusiastic people talking about topics that they were passionate about. Since then, the number of people showing up at each event has now almost tripled and the range of topics covered has widened too - from physics to engineering, from biology to linguistics. The atmosphere at these events is quite relaxed, with people from all walks of life discussing various topics over some beer. The talks are of 15 minutes each, with each person giving a concise presentation on the topic they chose.

I was surprised by the crispness and professional format of the talks. It wasn’t a bunch of half-baked science enthusiasts simply pouring out technical jargon. On the contrary, it was a set of well-prepared people, with a succinct presentation, explaining complicated concepts in layman terms and wrapping it up in 15 minutes- a good amount of time, I believe, to enable the audience to be informed, sparking interest, but not boring them with too many details.

There is a QnA session after the talk, giving the audience the time and space to interact with the speaker. Two of the talks are followed by a 20 minutes break, which allows for ample interactions with the speakers as well as the other audience members. I was curious to talk to the speakers, to find out what motivated them and how they got here. I heard from them that they went through three harrowing (that’s just hyperbolic speech, the sessions are actually quite fun) rehearsals, to ensure a good quality final presentation. This was quite impressive because here was a team of people who not only wanted to bring science to the public but went to great trouble to do this in the best way possible. I went through the same grueling schedule to perfect my presentation. Each rehearsal had few of the volunteers from 15x4, who took time off their busy schedules to sit with the speakers and help us improve the quality of the content and clarity of our presentation.

The day of the presentation was slightly nerve-wracking for me. I am a computational mechanics engineer, moving into the field of machine learning and what I am definitely not, is a quantum physicist. Although I have given many technical presentations at work, nothing prepared me for a layman talk like this. It was indeed a completely different ball game to summarize the double-slit experiment in a bid to explain the fundamentally probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics. Yet, there I was, on stage, doing exactly that to a thankfully eager and accepting audience. I received a rather decent response and could perhaps even immodestly claim to have sparked the interest of a few people for a few minutes on quantum mechanics. As an old proverb aptly goes: "To understand something means to derive it from quantum mechanics, which nobody understands."

Check out 15X4, Munich here:  My talk is unfortunately not yet on the 15X4 YouTube channel, due to technical difficulties. But, nobody from the audience threw rotten vegetables at me, so I have that going for me! You can however enjoy Radhika's talk on brain organoids.
Also, if you have a topic you’d like to talk about, do contact 15X4! 😊

Written by: Shehjar Kaul; Edited by: Radhika Menon. Featured images: 15x4 Munich/Iuliia Aulkina.

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