Science F(r)ictions

Science books and digital storytelling in La Casemate’s labs - ECSITE 2021

Publié par Marion Sabourdy, le 11 juin 2021   2.7k

Sci-fi stories, storytelling, transmedia experiments, augmented comics & booktubes : feedback on my intervention on science books and storytelling during the ECSITE conference in June 2021.

On Thursday June 10, I had the privilege and the pleasure to co-host two sessions about science books and storytelling during the European ECSITE conference.

Once upon a session...

With my partners Thierry Brassac, Head of science dissemination department at Montpellier University (France), Anna Gunnarsson, Project manager, Developer and Educator at Navet science center at Borås (Sweden) and our convenor Elin Roberts, Head of Public Engagement, International Centre for Life at Newcastle (England), we invited the participants to sit with us by the digital fire for a moment of relaxation with the Hansel and Gretel tale, interspersed with our feedback on the use of storytelling in our places of science.

Anna, Elin, Thierry and I, at the beginning of the session !

Here is the presentation text of our session : “Once upon a time, go on a trip through enchanted online landscapes. During this journey, meet three speakers, hiding in the storyline of an interactive fairytale. They all share a passion : stories ! Assuming that human brain is fond of stories, we explore both books and stories powers, reading and writing being two faces of a same coin. We’ll tell our experiences of using books to talk about sciences : by creating cartoon characters, designing creative writing workshops or using FabLab to create books, exploring books from literature with science glasses, magnifiers and testtubes… These experiments allow us to reach new audiences and find alternative partners (bookshops, authors, illustrators…) distant from the science field but very precious ! For example, libraries are a highly integrated cultural grid which work with a large diversity of the population. Science enthusiasts and book lovers ! They lived happily ever after and shared a lot of science !”

Science books and digital storytelling in La Casemate’s labs

Here is the text of my speech (please note that I was talking just when Hansel and Gretel entered the witch's house) :

Hello my dears, my name is Marion Sabourdy & I’m a digital witch. Welcome to my candy lab ! Here, as you can see, I make candies with my fantastic candy machine. You know what ? Willy Wonka built it for me !

My lab is located in a science center and it can also be called a Fab Lab. Around me, in addition to my candy machine, you can also see laser cutters or 3D printers. Very useful for cutting wood from the forest or printing candy boxes (and also cooking some overly curious kids but this is another story).

In my Fab Lab, I also love to imagine fantastic stories and when I can do it with other witches like you or with some badass leprechauns and werewolves (yeah, I’m talking about my colleagues & local partners), it's even better.

For me, fiction & especially science-fiction is a very good way to both get into scientific subjects and make our visitors active and creative. I would like to quickly present you some examples of the stories we’ve made so far.

First, we used to work with a female sci-fi author called Li-Cam. She gave a series of workshops to help a dozen participants write the first chapter of their science-fiction novel. From the creation of their planet, their characters, their plot and so on. Some participants were PhD in astrophysics : they were able to inspire and confirm the scientific background of stories. It was a really good first attempt to use sci-fi with our publics. It was really great to see the participants creating their stories with a professional. 

"Writing a space opera novel: advice from author Li-Cam"

But since we are in a Fab Lab, we also like to use our tools, our tangible tools, to build stories.

The first example is a serie of workshops called GALAXIE : it’s a transmedia project we’ve made with media creators, 2 scientists & participants. 

During 10 workshops, we created a fictional universe with several different formats. Each workshop focused on 1 format (like text, beatbox, music, video, drawings, video games and making objects) and each workshop contributed to the same story (it’s the transmedia part). It was a sci-fi story on 2 civilisations that use dark energy differently (to have power or to do good). Our 2 scientists were specialists in cosmology and the planet Mars.

GALAXIE : the collaborative transmedia saga

My second example is a workshop called “the little writing fab lab”. We invited 6 authors to participate (sci-fi authors, playwright or science writers). Each of them wrote the prologue of a story. Then our visitors chose one of them and wrote a little chapter of the story (1 or 2 paragraphs). Then, a second participant writes the next chapter, based on the last sentence of the previous author, a third one another little bit and so on until the sixth. It’s the exquisite corpse technique, you know ? When the story is finished, we print it, fold the paper and then create our book cover using the fab lab tools : a sewing machine to bind the book and the sticker machine to decorate the cover.

Writing and making books together: the Little Writing Fab Lab

My third example is a workshop called “Augmented comic”. We make kids create an interactive comic strip, using paper, felt pens, pre-made characters with laser cutter and makey-makey sensors connected to a computer. The participants imagine a story, then they draw the boxes of the comic strip, add pre-made characters or draw them and the bubbles with the text. Then, participants record sounds relating to events happening in each box. They connect the corresponding element of each individual box to the computer using the makey makey. Touching the interactive elements trigger the corresponding sound!

Augmented comic: bring your comic to life

Last but not least, my fourth example : the booktubes ! We invite our partners to become youtubers the time of a video where they present a science book they liked. We shoot this video with a smartphone. This is our way of showing that we can easily produce digital content on science and that you don't need a lot of material to be creative. The participant takes part in the design of the video. He can also make it and edit it himself. We’ve already made 20 booktubes on neurology, evolution, archaeology, astronomy, zombies or artificial intelligence.

Echosciences booktubes: Share your science readings on video!

We believe that our science center is not only a place where people come to discover science. It’s also a place of creation and expression. People come to meet researchers and mediators and to share their stories. And if they have fun and slip little bits of science into their stories, it's even better. Long story short, in our workshops, we mix creative writing, DIY and conversations with scientists. People come to us with their curiosity and ideas and leave with their story in their hands.

Thank you for your attention. Now, I must leave you, I have a snack to serve to the children.

Special thanks

Thank you to my co-hosts Anna, Elin & Thierry for the session, to the participants, to La Casemate's partners for all of these projects (Labo des Histoires, La Fabrique Media, Université Grenoble Alpes, Erasme...), my colleague Audrey Korczynska for the proofreading, Catherine Demarcq for the augmented comic, Pascal Moutet and Barthelemy Caillard for the help during the session.

>> Credits : Tumisu, Pixabay