I made the biggest change of my life in September 2017, when I moved from Pennsylvania to Savannah, Georgia. Aside from college, this was the first time I had ever moved away from my hometown. If I’m being honest I didn’t come here with a particular mission. I moved mostly to get out on my own, on an offer to move in with two friends from college. But in my time living in Savannah, I noticed there weren’t many opportunities to engage with science; no hallmark science centers like there are in so many other places I’ve visited.
Granted, there is a marine center on Tybee Island, and a wildlife preserve further inland, but there wasn’t a dedicated science center. The only one that existed shut down in the late 90s, and now there are only a few select places where the public can actually go to engage with science, all of them designed for young children.
In December 2017, I was accepted to speak at a science communication and planetary well-being conference in Finland in June 2018 (which was amazing!). Shortly after that acceptance, I decided I wanted to push farther ahead with my own science communication. I’ve been writing science-fiction novels for 14 years and have been incorporating real research and scientific concepts into my most recent books, but I wanted to take it a step further and have a greater reach than some no-name author trying to sell books.
In January 2018, I began making science education videos on YouTube. I named my website and channel “Experience Daliona” after a fictional organization in one of my novels. Experience Daliona has grown to represent the entirety of my brand, focused on science communication and public engagement.
A sidewalk science center | Photo by Alex Martin
I began making videos inside my apartment, but within a month, I stopped. My motivation just wasn’t there. I was losing steam. I wasn’t in love with how I was presenting the information. The format I chose wasn’t aligned with my goals and I knew I needed to change my style. After another month of brainstorming and planning, I began making videos in the city. Not just in public, but with the public. I stopped people on the sidewalk, interviewed them about a scientific topic, and made a video of it.
I’ll never forget the first women I interviewed: they were incredibly nice and engaged with the questions--but I forgot to turn the microphone on. Needless to say, I learned my lesson.
Nearly four months later, I now spend three to four days a week interviewing people for videos. I’ve already met hundreds of people in downtown Savannah, and as of this writing, almost 200 people have appeared in my videos. I’m also incorporating science demonstrations into my filming days, because I was missing the opportunity to engage with kids, families, and people who didn’t want to do an interview, but were still interested in talking about science. Each week, I try to add a new demonstration along with all the previous ones as I expand the range of concepts. With nearly ten demos, people can stick around for about fifteen minutes, and any newcomers can cycle through! To top it off, at the end of the demonstrations, kids get to take home their own pair of diffraction rainbow glasses (which never fail to make them gasp with awe!)
With each new week, I plan to add to and expand Experience Daliona, testing and reshaping methods and approaches to engage and influence as many people as possible. My vision for Experience Daliona in the long-term is to eventually develop state-of-the-art science exploration centers and redefine what it means to engage with science in everyday life. I wholeheartedly believe science is a collective experience, and through more widespread informal engagement, we can strengthen our communities and enhance the quality of life for people all over the world.
To me, Experience Daliona isn’t just about showing off a few cool tricks, or interviewing people for YouTube videos. Experience Daliona has become a way of life. Engaging people on the sidewalk with science is just the beginning. I hope it will become a name people associate with imagination, curiosity, and education. I want to help people fall in love with science and art, and celebrate humanity and all our endeavors. With every passing week, and each new donation, I’m able to further that mission, reach more people and provide a brief experience beyond everyday life that encourages people to take a look at the world a little more closely and ask what is perhaps the most important question of all:
Alex Martin lives in Savannah, Georgia, where he works as a science museum educator and teaches science on the street. Along with pursuing more courses in physics, math, and space studies, he also gives assemblies to high school and college students to further inspire a love for the Arts and Sciences, keeping with the mission of his books. Follow Alex on Twitter, Instagram, and/or YouTube and let him know what you thought of his blog post!