The 12 winners of the inaugural Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement with Research were announced today by the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, in a ceremony at Merton College. We are delighted that they include EP's Dr. Hannah Smithson, whose AHRC-funded project - The Ordered Universe: Engaging with Medieval and Modern Science through the Radical Interdisciplinary - won one of the inaugural Vice–Chancellor’s Awards for Public Engagement with Research.
The project explores the scientific writings of the remarkable English thinker Robert Grosseteste (c. 1170-1253), challenging commonly held misconceptions about the categorisation of scientists v. non-scientists and the sophistication of medieval scientific thinking. Engagement platforms have included science and arts festivals, hands-on demonstrations of experiments and reading of medieval texts. We worked with artists on The World Machine for the Durham Lumière Festival 2015 (audience of c. 400,000) and are working with the National Glass Centre on a joint exhibition related to colour and rainbows. Each Ordered Universe team member contributes the programme and in so doing we are pioneering new ways of working across and between disciplines and with the public. Engaging the public with the research teaches us a lot: explaining ideas to new audiences sharpens the ideas themselves; questions from audiences inspire new ways of thinking about the material; and the experience of giving to others our sense of wonder at our subjects generates energy for further study. Through creative collaborations we have also been challenged to think more deeply about the implications of Grosseteste’s hypotheses and the reciprocal relationship between understanding the present and the past.
The Awards recognise excellence in Public Engagement with Research. The Vice-Chancellor said: “We want to create a climate in which we can embed public engagement even more deeply into our research practices…Our aim is to ensure that Oxford acquires a reputation for engaging the public that equals our reputation for research. I encourage you to take inspiration from the inaugural winners of the University’s Public Engagement Awards and reflect on opportunities to engage the public with your own research.”