Physics:exhibitionist by nature


Prof. R. Iengo

Master in Science Communication, SISSA-International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy



Prof. S. Fantoni

SISSA-International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy




Dr N. Pitrelli

Master in Science Communication, SISSA-International School for Advanced Studies, Trieste, Italy








The installation consists of 12 rectangular panels 120 cm (horizontal) X 60 cm (vertical) each devoted to a theme of actual frontier research in physics like unification of the forces, expansion of the universe, entropy, dark matter, Higgs boson, etc. In the panel there is an image evoking the subject, often in a semiserious way, and a very short text (in Italian) giving a key idea. Each panel has an headline, like for instance “fisica disordinata per natura” (“physics messy by nature”) for the entropy theme, “fisica oscura per natura” (“physics obscure by nature”) for the dark matter theme, etc, always in the form “fisica xxx per natura” (“physics xxx by nature”)

1. The project

This exhibition is based on the work of the students of the Master in Science Communication (MCS) held at SISSA (International School for Advanced Studies) in the academic year 2004/2005. The International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA), founded in 1978, is a centre for research and postgraduate studies leading to a PhD degree. Initially concentrated around the so-called "hard sciences", SISSA's Sectors have expanded to explore groundbreaking interfaces between science and the humanities. Among the various activities there is a Master in Science Communication (MCS), a two-year part-time course aimed at providing specialized training in different fields of science communication, such as written, television and on-line journalism, institutional and business communication, traditional publishing and multimedia and museology.

Graduates from any discipline can follow the Master, which comprises various courses distributed across three areas: theory and communication techniques, scientific courses and an area more directed towards social studies in science.

One of the scientific courses regards physics communication. The course is held by a scientist and a public science communication expert and is directed at those who have not necessarily followed studies in physics or mathematics, but who are trained to become science communication experts and will therefore deal with these subjects.

The Masters course in physics is subdivided into eight lessons, each one lasting four hours. Every lesson centres on a different theme in physics, dealt with both on a scientific and a communicative level.

The aim of the course was to create a public science communication product which would have the following characteristics:



The choice of topics was done taking into account the public relevance, the social effects and therefore the communicative ‘spendability’ of the theme in question.

The chosen topics were as follows:


·        natural constants

·        entropy

·        asintotic behaviour

·        Higgs’ boson

·        geometry, relativity, gravity

·        multibodies

·        dark matter

·        supernovae

·        strings


It was decided the communicative output of the course: to present outcomes on display boards of 60x120cm.

From one month to the next, the students’ task was to produce texts and images inspired by the topics discussed during the lesson, within a homogenous layout for all the boards. At the end, twelve boards were created, symbolising the 12 months of the World Year of Physics 2005. The results were supervised by the responsibles of the course.


2. Examples

The following gives two examples of the work produced by the students. One deals with natural constants (panel 1) and the other looks at entropy (panel 2).

The headline in each panel (the English text is in the captions) deals with the relationship between physics and nature. It is important to mention that this link is intended in a metaphorical sense: the intention is not to explain or inform. As well as this, where the body copy contains information, it is very bare and the combination of text and images has the aim of evoking a sensation through an aesthetic presentation.

In the first example (panel 1) the image is of a metaphorical identity card belonging to the universe, with natural constants as its distinguishing features. Entropy (panel 2) has been represented by an overturned glass of milk. These everyday images were used in a context whose aim is not to simplify, render more trivial or indeed more spectacular. Rather it was hoped to arouse a greater interest in an audience that already had some ideas regarding the topics in question.


Panel 1. Headline: Physics: constant by nature Body copy: The building blocks of physics: h bar, turnkey of quantum mechanics, c, speed of light G, constant of universal gravitation. All the measurable quantities of the Universe, the microcosmos and the macrocosmos, can be expressed by these constants. Text on the identity card: Name:UNIVERSE; Born: 14 BILLION YEARS AGO; State IN EXPANSION; distinguishing features: h bar c G; Signature of holder: infinity

Panel 2. Headline: Physics: messy by nature Body copy: Entropy: everything becomes more and more disordered. There is no turning back: time travels one way only.  The Universe’s entropy continues to grow.


3. Conclusion

The  “Physics: exhibitionist by nature” project is an example of how people, motivated in science communication but that do not have a specifically scientific background, can come up with communication products that deal with the more difficult aspects of physics. If the product’s aim is not that of explanation, even those people with less technical preparation can be successful in creating communicative and it is possible that images and syntheses are produced, which are closer to the reality than those done by experts. that are interested in physics or would like to know more about it, but who have a kind of reverential fear that prevents them from exploring the subject further. Apart from the aesthetic judgement that one may give to the panels, the project also demonstrates how science can be communicated through research into artistic expression.