Big Van Ciencia
Featured voices - March 14, 2024

Big Van Ciencia

Helena González and Oriol Marimon, content coordinator and project manager

“We perceive a lot of interest in understanding nuclear energy”

Big Van Ciencia was born in 2013 with the idea of ​​spreading knowledge about science in a way that was unprecedented in Spain. This is summarized by two of its founders, both doctors: biomedical scientist Helena González and chemist Oriol Marimon. "We offer scientific communication and education with a lot of humor," they say. "We do theatrical shows, radio, television, educational projects, and much more." When asked about nuclear energy, these science artists claim to perceive "a great desire to understand it."

How did the idea of Big Van Ciencia come about?

Helena González (HG), biomedical scientist and education content coordinator: After we met at a training session, some of us, a very eclectic group of scientists hailing from different parts of the country and various scientific fields, came together united by the same spirit: "we love what we do and we have the capacity to share it on a stage." And people really liked this sort of  "Comedy Club" with a scientific twist.

Big Van Ciencia
Helena González during one of the shows. (Photo: Big Van Ciencia)

“More than a decade ago, we started a different kind of scientific communication in Spain via monologues and humor"

The truth is that it went so well and people liked it so much... It was something completely different from what was being done in scientific outreach at the moment. It was a boom. We started getting calls from numerous organizations to do shows and scientific events. That's when Big Van Ciencia emerged as an association, and some of us transitioned to dedicating ourselves professionally to scientific communication.

How did the name come to be?

Oriol Marimon (OM), chemist and project manager: At the time when Big Van came to be, The Big Bang Theory was a huge success. We decided to use a pun in our name and called ourselves The Big Van Theory. That's how we started, and later on we became Big Van Ciencia.

Big Van Ciencia
Oriol Marimón during a monologue. (Photo: Big Van Ciencia)

Who are its members, and what are their profiles like?

HG: There are four of us managing this, but we have a network of up to 37 collaborators. Everyone who works and collaborates with us comes from the field of science (university professors, researchers, PhDs, post-docs...) It is important to us that the people who take the stage are also scientists with firsthand knowledge of what they are talking about, and who can also break stereotypes.

"All the people who are part of Big Van come from the scientific world"

Big Van Ciencia
Members of Big Van Ciencia performing on stage. (Photo: Big Van Ciencia)

In your experience, what type of activities work best in scientific communication?

OM: What we are best known for and what we primarily work with is an oral, face-to-face format. Whether it is in a theatre, auditorium, library or a bar, we create different types of shows depending on our audience.

For young people and the general public we use stand-up comedy, the most disruptive, playful and groundbreaking form of scientific monologue. We have also explored other formats such as improvisation, which is more geared towards an adult audience. For families and children we have shows based on clown characters, as we have found it to be the language that resonates best with these audiences. Additionally, we have found a formula that works very well in the field of education through scientific monologues. Essentially, we create shows discussing specific scientific themes, combining science and theatre.

"Humorous scientific monologues work really well in the educational field"

In 2013 there was not so much, but as new technologies advance and social networks develop we create more audiovisual formats, as well as videos, podcasts...

HG: Still, we strongly advocate everything that is done in-person, because the audience sees you, they hear you, they ask you questions, and the interaction with the audience works very well.

Big Van Ciencia
Big Van Ciencia during one of their monologues in a theater. (Photo: Big Van Ciencia)

What kind of topics do you cover?

HG: Since we come from the scientific and academic world, we started by addressing the topics in which each of us were experts. I got my doctorate in Biomedicine, and so I  focus on genetics, which is my specialization and what I enjoy most, but it is true that as communicators and disseminators we also adapt to other themes.

Currently we are increasingly receiving requests to address topics related to sustainability, the environment, new energies... It is something in high demand at the moment, and we have almost become experts in communicating these types of subjects and turning them into humorous monologues.

OM: For example, we are asked to present scientific conferences to make them more relaxed, approachable and lively. We have the capacity to understand what is being discussed and we can prepare our performance whilst generating contents that complement the topics being discussed, which keeps the audience engaged and entertained.

When you talk about nuclear energy, what kind of responses do you get from the audience?

HG: Lately we have been talking a lot about nuclear energy, because we are getting more and more requests for topics on sustainability. What we perceive from the audience is a lot of interest in understanding, because they have received super polarized opinions: nuclear energy will save the world, or it will destroy us all. The shades of gray are almost never seen...

"We talk a lot about nuclear energy because we are getting more and more requests to cover topics on sustainability"

We perceive a strong desire to understand, to know how it works, what are the projects being carried out... after our monologues we open the floor for questions, and every time we talk about nuclear energy we get a ton of questions!

How do you manage to debunk misinformation?

HG: With information.

OM: And empathy. In many areas of scientific communication, education and development, you encounter people who say: "If you're not with me, you're stupid; if you don't think like me, you have no idea, because I come from the world of science and I have absolute knowledge." You are not going to convince anyone with this approach, you will not get anyone to reflect or change their position.

What you need is empathy and to understand why they reached those positions. Once you understand that, you need to put yourself in their shoes and try to provide them with information and content, with the tools they need to keep searching, comparing and seeing other perspectives.

HG: Why are people so afraid of nuclear energy? You need to understand what information has led to their panic, and then dismantle it from there.

"We need to convey scientific information, not opinions; we need to approach people and have a dialogue with them using their own language"

You cannot position yourself radically against them. Maybe they just have misconceptions. Let's see what they are! And you offer them scientific, verified information that they can understand, not opinions."

And to conclude, how would you summarize these 11 years dedicated to scientific outreach?

HG: With a play on words. I think this was the Big Bang of Big Van, because it has been expansive. We started with a purely format of stand-up shows and comedic monologues, and we have now diversified into many other formats, some of which we had not even considered initially. For example, now we are managing social media and websites for various organizations that want to give a different focus to their communication.

There is an expansion in the number of formats and in the way people are taking on scientific communication. In 2013 there were very few of us, but now it becoming is increasingly popular, and more scientists want to get involved in this.

OM: Yes, it has really been a Big Bang. We have been to all five continents and performed in 23 countries.

With the in-person format we reach a lot of people. The audience claps, shouts, gets all excited... The emotion, the power that in-person theater has, is something extraordinary that reels you in and makes you keep doing it and performing. The proof is in these nearly 11 years we have been working, and in the fact that more and more organizations, companies, and groups are embracing this format. It is very exciting and we really enjoy it.

Header image and other photos in the text: Big Van Ciencia

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