A brief history of cross-border scientific teamwork

This is a 3-minute version of a 1-hour presentation I did at the Association for Science Education Annual Conference earlier this month (University of Reading, UK).

The brilliant Galileo was the father of modern science. But he wasn’t exactly the father of cross-border scientific teamwork. He refused to lend a telescope to Johannes Kepler, the Imperial Mathematician in Prague – even though Kepler was, at the time, almost the only person to support Galileo over his claims to have observed four moons orbiting Jupiter.

The discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background – the radiation left over from the Big Bang – was one of the key events in 20th-century astronomy. But poor communication between scientists in the USA, Canada, Russia, France, England and Japan meant that this radiation was, in fact, discovered up to seven times over a 24-year period – without anyone realising.

In the 21st century, JAXA – the Japanese space agency – asked NASA if they would like to “collaborate” on a piece of equipment for the International Space Station. They sent some diagrams, and a discussion began. NASA thought that JAXA wanted to collaborate on building the equipment. Actually, the Japanese had already built it: they were asking if the Americans wanted to collaborate on using it. The thing is, the discussion went on for two years before anyone realised this.

Spectacular achievements such as the International Space Station are powerful demonstrations of how, at all levels, STEM – that is, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – is becoming more and more global.

ISS

We’re developing a project to help improve cross-border communication and collaboration within STEM. It’s called SkypeRead. The central idea is to bring STEM practitioners and students, from all over the world, together in Skype group calls to do read-throughs of movie scripts – and we’re getting some exciting results in terms of improving English-language skills and teamworking.

The project uses a number of principles from neuroELT, a new field that investigates links between neuroscience and English Language Teaching – in particular, the idea that emotion drives learning. Generally speaking: more emotional engagement means more cognitive processing.

With support from Start Motion Pictures, we’re currently using the script for “Europa Report”, a highly realistic science-fiction movie about a multinational mission to search for life on Europa, one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter.

Galileo

Which brings us back to Galileo. Of course, there is the question: if Galileo is not the father of cross-border scientific teamwork, then who is?

Here’s my nomination: the English astronomer Arthur Eddington. Just after the end of the first world war, he led mission to an equatorial island to record a solar eclipse and demonstrate that spacetime is curved – as predicted by the German physicist Einstein.

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