Whilst stood on the soapbox with red lipstick and muddy fingers, I’m overwhelmingly happy to say that yes – they did. Although at first a little timid, members of the public most definitely got involved (aided by British Society of Soil Science leaflet and soil monster freebees, as well as my own hand-made & illustrated soil organism cards). A thoroughly exciting and exhausting hour ensued, enticing more and more people to come and learn about the intriguing and vital world of soil organic matter.
As a first event in Newcastle, we had a record breaking footfall of over 19k throughout the 3 hours, many of whom were not afraid to ask questions. Some of these questions came as quite a surprise – “What do you think of using human waste as organic fertiliser?” Of which I was more than happy to discuss. Others were simply interested to understand more about what soil actually was made up of, which I was equally enthusiastic to explain! Statements such as “I’d never thought about that” also cropped up; and it was intriguing to see where knowledge gaps existed.
There were encouraging numbers of young girls with enthused parents, who exclaimed at the reality of what scientists really look like – and I was proud amongst the other women to be asserting our presence against the traditional perception of a scientist. It was a fantastic feeling to fulfil the primary aim of Soapbox Science and raise the profile of women in science.
Although there were some of the ‘usual suspects’ you might find at science fairs, I felt that I connected with many people that would not usually seek scientific knowledge. This was an awesome revelation and really cemented the second (but in no way lesser) aim of the event. These people were both curious and intrigued, and the moments in which I witnessed a sparkle of excitement and an illumination of understanding will forever spur me on through my public engagement work and my career. It is of course through passion for your specific subject that drives scientists’ to pursue their work, however, it is also a deep integral understanding that the specific subject affects all human life – each and every one of us. Personally, this comprehension between soil health, biodiversity and human health is what urges me to stand on the Soapbox and shout to the unsuspecting public “come and learn about soil science!”
The experience has renewed my passion to learn and connect with soil both scientifically and physically. So, whilst keeping my fingers and toes deeply rooted in the rich, fertile earth… next time on the soapbox, I will be shouting even louder.
Jasmine Black, Newcastle University, UK
Jasmine recently completed her Ph.D. research in bulk soil organic carbon stocks and characterisation of molecular carbon (lignin, tannin and carbohydrates) in soils along a savannah-rainforest transition in Guyana, South America.