UBC has launched a new non-fiction writing course that brings together physics and creative writing students to produce engaging and accessible science stories. The course, dubbed Storytelling, Persuasion, and Physics, was launched in January 2023.
Course Instructor and Associate Professor at the School of Creative Writing, Timothy Taylor, said the program was inspired by an art residency in Ars Scientia, a tripartite research partnership between the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute (Blusson QMI), the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery (the Belkin).
Ars Scientia was established in 2019 with funding from UBC’s Research Excellence Cluster program to bring together scientists and artists to foster new modes of knowledge exchange across the arts, sciences and their pedagogies.
“All of my career in magazine writing has involved going into strange rooms where I didn’t know the professional details of what’s going on inside, and that sense of the unknown is something that I’m very comfortable with,” said Taylor.
“Only on a few occasions, you discover something that is really mind-opening, something that you really wouldn’t have known how to predict, and that’s how I feel about my experience [with Ars Scientia].
“I’ve had an incredible time exploring the various parts of Blusson QMI, talking to practitioners in various different research realms, and getting to know that little introductory bit of what is going on there, enough to convince me that it’s deeply fascinating.”
The course provides the students with practical skills and writing techniques that Taylor has acquired through his career as a multiple award winning nonfiction writer.
“The course enables the students to venture into unfamiliar territory and ask good questions that could lead to truthful accounting of important scientific discoveries,” Taylor said.
Ars Scientia Researcher and Curator of Academic Programs at the Belkin Dr. Shelly Rosenblum, who has been attending the course as a participant, said the seminar table is a laboratory calling on creative writing and physics students to engage in different ways of knowing.
“Ars Scientia is about doing truly interdisciplinary work, and the course is a great case study of how to do that. We have a semester to incubate in a seminar room together, coming from wildly different disciplinary perspectives and methods in our work,” said Dr. Rosenblum. “What we’re finding is that we might be creating a new space entirely.”
“Over the past few years that we’ve had the privilege to realize Ars Scientia, we’ve developed a wide array of programs that enhance our ability to communicate and cooperate across boundaries and move forward as engaged and creative citizens of the 21st century,” Dr. Rosenblum said.
Ars Scientia Program Manager and Research Associate at Blusson QMI Dr. James Day, who also has been participating in the course, believes Taylor has been an excellent instructor and that the in-class discussions have been very insightful.
“Ars Scientia helped with the initial brainstorming of what this course would entail. Education and outreach are among Ars Scientia’s core focuses, and further down the road, we hope to be able to adapt material from the course to create a workshop-style learning module that can be more broadly delivered within UBC.”
Taylor said the students will emerge from this course with a potentially publishable popular science article. For Physics students, the skills are transferable and could be put to use in the language that one uses to prepare grant applications, write engaging research articles, and all the other instances where a scientist needs to speak passionately and persuasively about their research area.
To learn more about Ars Scientia, please click here.