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Bringing Computational Science to the Public


Bringing Computational Science to the Public

James L McDonagh et al. Springerplus.


Background: The increasing use of computers in science allows for the scientific analyses of large datasets at an increasing pace. We provided examples and interactive demonstrations at Dundee Science Centre as part of the 2015 Women in Science festival, to present aspects of computational science to the general public. We used low-cost Raspberry Pi computers to provide hands on experience in computer programming and demonstrated the application of computers to biology. Computer games were used as a means to introduce computers to younger visitors. The success of the event was evaluated by voluntary feedback forms completed by visitors, in conjunction with our own self-evaluation. This work builds on the original work of the 4273π bioinformatics education program of Barker et al. (2013, BMC Bioinform. 14:243). 4273π provides open source education materials in bioinformatics. This work looks at the potential to adapt similar materials for public engagement events.

Results: It appears, at least in our small sample of visitors (n = 13), that basic computational science can be conveyed to people of all ages by means of interactive demonstrations. Children as young as five were able to successfully edit simple computer programs with supervision. This was, in many cases, their first experience of computer programming. The feedback is predominantly positive, showing strong support for improving computational science education, but also included suggestions for improvement.

Conclusions: Our conclusions are necessarily preliminary. However, feedback forms suggest methods were generally well received among the participants; "Easy to follow. Clear explanation" and "Very easy. Demonstrators were very informative." Our event, held at a local Science Centre in Dundee, demonstrates that computer games and programming activities suitable for young children can be performed alongside a more specialised and applied introduction to computational science for older visitors.

Keywords: 4273pi; 4273π; Bioinformatics; Computational science; Education; Public engagement; Public events; Teaching.


Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Interactive activity space used in the Dundee Science Centre
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Pie chart plots summarising the data collected about the background of the visitors. Proportions for the pie charts ‘Adult child gender split’ and ‘Gender split’ differ, because one participant chose not to give their age
Fig. 3
Fig. 3
Responses to the Likert questions are catagorised here  as agreeing or disagreeing with the question. Neutral answers were removed, so count as neither positive nor negative
Fig. 4
Fig. 4
Responses to the Likert questions are summarised as pie charts showing the proportions of responses in each category

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