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Communicating Science - From the Deep Sahara into World Media

3/27/2018, 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM | German House New York

Communicating Science - From the Deep Sahara into World Media

• University of Cologne
• German Research Foundation (DFG)

On March 27, 2018, the German Center for Research and Innovation (DWIH) New York, the University of Cologne, and the German Research Foundation (DFG) hosted “Communicating Science – From the Deep Sahara into World Media” with Dr. Stefan Kröpelin, 17th recipient of the Communicator Award and Geologist at the University of Cologne, Germany. A discussion moderated by Katherine Bagley, Managing Editor of Yale Environment 360, followed the talk.

The evening began with Dr. Gerrit Roessler, program manager of the DWIH, Dr. Rainer Gruhlich, director DFG Office North America and Dr. Eva Bosbach, executive director of the University of Cologne New York Office, introducing their organizations and welcoming the attendees.

Dr. Stefan Kröpelin was introduced by Katherine Bagley as “one of most devoted Sahara explorers of our times” according to Nature Magazine. She pointed out that Dr. Stefan Kröpelin has an entire section on his website devoted to the media appearance of his research.

Dr. Stefan Kröpelin gave an overview and explained that he would approach the topic of the evening “science communication” by referring to experiences and using examples he gained through four decades of publicly talking about his research on the Sahara. He stated that it is quite astonishing that such an extremely remote place, with zero population, can raise so much interest in the media.

He described the positive impacts of science communication, such as informing the public and therefore the tax-payer about what scientist do, as a great outlet for young academics to promote themselves and as a tool to help build a (scientific) community.

But, according to Dr. Stefan Kröpelin it also has its downsides, for example it can be very time consuming. This time commitment can raises the questions, why so much time is spend on media and not on research? But to him it is a great way of raising awareness with decision makers, generate funding for further research or initiate new projects. He concluded that he welcomes questions and feedback from journalist since the change in perspective can point to weakness in his research.

Dr. Stefan Kröpelin also emphasized the visible impact that one can make with science communication, referring to the Lakes of Ounianga and the Ennedi Massif, both having been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites due to his efforts.

He continued by briefly describing his fieldwork in the Sahara. The Sahara being as large as the US, he and his team would travel for weeks trough untouched country, having to bring everything on trucks, water, gas and food supply, driving with no roads through extreme terrain, with sometimes weeks of low visibility due to sand storms. Furthermore he spoke of the extreme temperature changes, encountering rebels and crossing mine fields.

A great help in science communication, he pointed out, are visuals, pictures and videos to document the work.

Dr. Stefan Kröpelin stressed that the willingness to share his research and to use opportunities to do so, lay the ground work to his media success. The movie “The English Patient” gave him such an opportunity. Returning from the exact place in the Sahara were the actual story of “The English Patient” took place when the movie was released, he wrote an essay that was published in the German weekly “Die Zeit”. In the essay he drew a direct line between his research and the movie and paved the way to a lot of attention to his work.

The speaker concluded that the sudden public interest and his popularity had a great impact on promoting the Lakes of Ounianga and the Ennedi Massif as UNESCO World Heritage.

Kat Bagley and Dr. Stefan Kröpelin engaged in a discussion about science communication and the importance of media coverage, TV-Teams and professional Photographers for such research trips.

Furthermore they spoke about the differences in science communication in Germany and the US. Dr. Stefan Kröpelin stated that, contrary to the US, 90% of his German colleagues do not make a great effort to share their research with the public.

He concluded the evening by expressing his thanks to the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German “Stifterverband” for initiating the Communicator Award in 2000, himself being the 2017 awardee, and his hopes that this will help raise awareness to the importance of communicating science.

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  • Featured Speakers

    • Stefan Kröpelin

      17th recipient of the Communicator Award – Science Award of the Donors’ Association Geologist, University of Cologne, Germany

    • Katherine Bagley

      Managing Editor, Yale Environment 360