Engaging Public in Fundamental Science through CERN Social Media

Updated: May 1

Who thought communicating what constitutes the basic nature of the universe is not that basic

CERN probes the fundamental structure of particles that makeup everything around us. We do so by using the world's largest and most complex scientific instruments. But conveying what constitutes the basic nature of the universe is a challenging feat for science communication. One of CERN’s most powerful tools for direct communication of, and engagement with, basic science is through its social-media channels. In this talk, we will showcase lessons learned from some activities like on Instagram as mentioned below:

1. Communicate, Listen, Dialogue, Repeat

Q&A on dark matter with scientists and participants

Listening is an art, and, arguably, one of the most crucial aspects to facilitate dialogue. On Dark Matter Day 2020, CERN’s social-media team invited its Instagram followers from all over the world to ask questions about dark matter. Participants asked questions such as: “What happens when dark matter mixes with human blood or brain neurons?” reflecting the participants’ scientific curiosity for fundamental science.

Just like dialogue of basic science with the (digital) public is not simple, communication about communications with scientists also remains a challenge. Many scientists at CERN made efforts to submit videos in the same format of Instagram Stories and answered every question. An Instagram poll on CERN’s Stories showed that 88% of viewers requested more such interactions with scientists. These activities try to use social science research such as Cassidy, A. (2014) to introduce extra levels of reflexivity on questions like, “How do we communicate about our work on communications?”

CERN proactively gives incentives to the social-media community to interact beyond “likes”, in the form of asking questions or suggesting creative ideas and thoughts, such as using Instagram’s recent feature “pin the comments” to encourage dialogue in fundamental science.

2. Incentivise Dialogue

CERN’s Instagram posts with quality engagement

For example, towards the end of 2020, CERN’s social media asked for the three best ideas to decorate a Christmas tree. Soon after, the comments section was filled with innovative ideas from participants.

Interesting questions get interesting answers!

CERN strives to enhance the quantity as well as the quality of public engagement with basic science through social media.

The role of social media in facilitating public engagement and citizen science should become a key interest of research across scientific institutions with a strong digital presence.