Stephanie Levi is the coordinator for the Student Center for Science Engagement at Northeastern Illinois University. She’s the author of the blog Science is Sexy ( http://science-is-sexy.com), which breaks down the science of everyday life, and the creator of Night Lab, a series of public science lectures held in Chicago bars and restaurants. Follow her on Twitter as @scienceissexy. Questions and answers have been edited.
Q: Science outreach has been a major part of your career. What sparked that passion?
I loved science growing up, basically by spending time outdoors, reading books about science, and having a “light-bulb moment” the first time I walked into a lab as a fifth-grader. My other strong suit was literature, which makes sense, since what I’m really doing with outreach is telling stories about science in a way that touches, moves and delights people, while helping them learn something new, too.
I loved trying to convince my friends who thought they hated science that it was actually cool. Once I got to college, I kept saying I wanted to be a liaison between science and the public, but had no real idea what that meant. It really became a passion when I started my graduate program and was writing for magazines, and realized not only that I was too social to just be confined to the lab, but also that I had a talent for making science interesting and accessible.
I also began mentoring students, and I have to say, watching people of all ages light up when they started doing science reflected my own love for it back to me.
Q: What tend to be the most popular topics with the audience at the Night Lab lectures?
Sex, food, anything sensory tends to be a big winner – partly because they’re so real-world.
Q: Based on what you’ve learned, what do you think is the key to making science sexy?
I’d say when you’re trying to make science sexy, take your scientist hat off and put your party hat on. Think about what’s fun for people, what’s interesting to people and what sparks your curiosity. Telling science stories in language people can understand, about science that makes people ask more questions or go out seeing the world in a new way is the key. And anyone can do it – just start where you are.