• Brian Greene speaks during the 'NOVA - The Fabric of the Cosmos' panel in California in 2011. Photo by Frederick M. Brown (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
As the inaugural World Science Festival unfolds in Brisbane, here's a sneak preview of our conversation with its co-founder, string theorist Brian Greene.
Signe Dean

11 Mar 2016 - 5:48 PM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2016 - 5:48 PM

Even if you wouldn't go to a potentially boring public science lecture, chances are you would love to see a movie, a theatre play or a performance. That's the logic behind World Science Festival (WSF), a week-long collection of events that's taken place in New York every year since 2008.

"In New York City, if you want an event to attract press and large audiences, the level of production has to be significant," says the festival's co-founder, physicist and author Brian Greene.

"Otherwise it's just going to join the mass of other science events that happen all over the place all the time, in universities and museums and so forth. You want to create something special."

Greene, who is famous for his work in string theory as much as for his popular science outreach, started this project together with his spouse, award-winning journalist Tracy Day, in order to "cultivate a general public informed by science, and inspired by its wonder."

"The vast majority of people, if you get them young enough - you don't have to convince them that science is exciting or interesting" 

This year for the first time the World Science Festival has come to Australia, to Queensland Museum in Brisbane, where it's currently taking place until Sunday, 13 March. The museum has acquired rights to hold the WSF Brisbane for the next six years.

Just like its New York counterpart, the bustling festival brings science and art to life via theatrical performances, exhibitions, debates, and more, always keeping in sight the goal to inspire, rather than turn science into a dry classroom experience.

"There's a real danger that when you bring art and science together, you can drag each of them down," says Greene. "I've seen many attempts which were well-meaning, but somehow felt pedagogical at their core."

When pedagogy enters art, it takes you out of the emotional experience and brings you back to the classroom, he says. For the people who feel intimidated by the difficulty of understanding scientific theories, storytelling is the path to telling them engaging facts about our world.

"I think any major breakthrough that has transformed our thinking has enough in it that you can extract away from the details, still capturing enough of the science that you're portraying the real ideas," says Greene.

He echoes the notion that many science communicators point out - no child is disinterested in science.

"The vast majority of people, if you get them young enough - you don't have to convince them that science is exciting or interesting, they know it," says Greene.

"We as a culture are very good at beating that out of them by teaching science in a way where all of a sudden it doesn't have the excitement and the wonder, but it's rote memorisation, or the solving of problems for which you don't see any reason to focus your attention on," he adds.

"So it's really a matter of allowing our natural human spirit and instinct to be nurtured and develop - and that's where the love of science is. It's not a matter of creating it, it's within us."

Stay tuned for a full version of SBS Science's Q&A with Brian Greene on Monday!

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