This Eclipse Could Make You Cry–And Make New Scientists

Douglas Duncan is an astronomer who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. He is also an eclipse fanatic. Since 1970, he has been to 11 total solar eclipses. When April 8, 2024, comes around, he’ll experience his twelfth with his 600 best friends as he leads a three-day eclipse viewing extravaganza in Texas. “It looks like the end of the world,” he says, and a total eclipse can be a source of intense fascination. He uses the emotional experience of the eclipse as a gateway to learning more about science. 

On this episode, Lisa Margonelli talks to Duncan about how he has used this sense of experiential wonder, particularly in planetariums, as a way to invite the public into the joy of science. In previous generations, planetariums were seen as “old fashioned” and isolated from the work of modern astronomers. But Duncan pioneered a career track that combined public teaching at a planetarium with a faculty position at the University of Colorado. Now many planetariums have become places where academic astronomers can share their knowledge with the public. 

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Lisa Margonelli: Welcome to The Ongoing Transformation, a podcast from Issues in Science and Technology. Issues is a quarterly journal published by the National Academy of Sciences and by Arizona State University. 

On April 8, 2024, North America will experience something that we will not see again for another 20 years: a total solar eclipse. Across the continent, millions will look up at the sky and watch the moon block out the sun, causing darkness to descend for up to four and a half minutes. Celestial events such as these are awe-inspiring and bring the joy of science to the people. But these public engagement opportunities and institutions are often seen as separate from the work of actual scientists. How can these communities better work together to engage the public? 

I’m Lisa Margonelli, editor-in-chief at Issues. On this episode, I’m joined by Douglas Duncan, an astronomer at the University of Colorado and former director of the Fiske Planetarium. Doug pioneered a new career track that combined public teaching at a planetarium with a faculty position. He has helped to modernize planetariums across the country. And, he is a bonafide eclipse fanatic.

Doug, welcome!

Doug Duncan: Thank you very much.

Margonelli: You are preparing to go chase the eclipse in early April. Tell me where you’re going and who you’re bringing with you.

Duncan: Well, I’m looking forward to my 12th total eclipse of the last 50 years. And this one is relatively nearby. We’re going about an hour north of Austin, Texas. Me and 600 friends.

Margonelli: Close friends.

Duncan: Close friends. Actually, interestingly enough, roughly one quarter of them are repeat customers. They have chased eclipses somewhere else in the world with me, and it was such a powerful experience, they really, really wanted to see it again. And so they’re back.

A total eclipse of the sun is the most powerful natural spectacle I have ever seen.

Margonelli: The first time I met you, which was a couple weeks ago, you made such a powerful pitch about the joy and amazingness of being in the midst of a total eclipse that I actually am going to take the day off and drive across Maine to the town of Jackman, where I’m going to hope for a big experience under some cloud cover. But what I want you to do is tell us why eclipses are so meaningful and why we should drop everything and go see that eclipse.

Duncan: I have to say that a total eclipse of the sun is the most powerful natural spectacle I have ever seen. That includes standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon which is majestic, being next to the waterfall in Yosemite, seeing the Northern Lights which are marvelous. But if you do see a total eclipse, it looks like the end of the world, and some people start to cry and to scream. I’ve had all kinds of very powerful personal comments to me, but before I repeat any of those, let’s set the scene. Our sun is so incredibly powerful that even a few percent of it keeps everything light. So it’s a common misperception. I meet lots and lots of people who say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve seen an eclipse. It was 90%. Yeah, I saw it.” 90% is not the same. A total eclipse when the sun finally is completely covered by the moon looks a lot like the end of the world. There’s a big black hole in the sky, right where the sun should be, and pink flames all around the edge.

Those are the prominences of the sun. And silver streamers stretching quite far across the sky and little shapes caused by the sun’s magnetic field. And then it gets cold, quite cold. And animals do strange things. The animals definitely respond, and so do the people. So some of the comments that I’ve had, I think my favorite is my daughter’s. She said to me when she saw a total eclipse, “Dad, that was scary fun.” And I’ve had people say, “I feel connected to the universe like never before.” I’ve seen people say, “I, I felt like I was in the presence of God.” I have people say just, “Oh, I was just freaked out.” So it’s a very powerful natural experience. Intellectually, it’s interesting, and a partial eclipse is interesting, but a total eclipse is very emotional.

I suppose one other way I could try and describe that is, even though I have seen 11 total eclipses, when we get to totality, the hair on the back of my neck stands up because something is weird, something isn’t right. And that’s only happened one other time in my life. I was out hiking and I came around a bend and there maybe 25, 30 yards away was a mountain lion. And I can tell you that my response was not, you know, a purely intellectual response. Oh my goodness. There was a mountain lion. Oh, no, not at all. Instantly, the hair on the back of my head stood up and my mind quickly said, “Uh-oh uh-oh, something’s wrong.” And that happens to me, even though I’m a professional astronomer, during an eclipse, there just is this powerful, probably subconscious feeling. Something’s wrong in the world. This is not right. Maybe those astronomers are correct, and in four minutes it’ll all return to normal. But if they’re wrong, maybe this is what the end of the world looks like. So I hope that’s the best I can do to try and convey some of the power of this experience.

Margonelli: Well, so this is a very interesting experience that you’re describing because you are a professional astronomer. You’ve published 50 papers. They’ve been cited thousands of times. You’ve run several planetariums. You are through and through a scientist, and you’re very interested in the communication of science to citizens and getting more people into the experience of science. And you’re taking people to a very emotional experience to see the eclipse as a sort of gateway to science. Science doesn’t normally talk about the end of the world. What are you doing?

Duncan: Implied, perhaps, in what you say is that there may be some conflict between the intellectual pursuit of science and this very emotional experience of an eclipse. I vote with Richard Feynman. He always said that it’s—and I agree with him—it’s a false dichotomy to say, for instance, if you look at a flower and you’re just an artist with no scientific background, it’s a beautiful flower. Maybe you’ll paint it. But if you’re a scientist and you know how it works, if you know what’s inside that flower, it does not take away from the beauty. Feynman would argue you just appreciate it more if you know more of the details behind the picture.

Having a background in science museums, I know that if you engage people and if they really start to feel pretty passionate about something, that’s the gateway for them to go and learn more.

And I vote with Feynman, you know, it’s the same way with an eclipse. I will prepare people who come with me and we’ll talk about what causes eclipses and why are they so rare? And there’s all of this you know, kind of cognitive knowledge, and that’s great. But then when the actual thing happens, it’s a very, very powerful experience. So I actually think those go together, and they probably should go together. Having a background in science museums, I know that if you engage people and if they really start to feel pretty passionate about something, that’s the gateway for them to go and learn more. So, you know, if you appeal to people’s curiosity, if you appeal to their interest, if you appeal to just their sense of, wow, that’s something beautiful, that’s something interesting, I wanna learn more. I see that as a gateway.

Margonelli: Another one of your gateways, I think was planetariums. Tell me about planetariums.

Duncan: Well, when the planetarium was invented almost a hundred years ago exactly by the Zeiss Company in Germany, it was considered miraculous. It was the first VR experience.

Margonelli: Virtual, so it’s a virtual reality experience to be able to sit underneath the heavens.

Duncan: Absolutely. People would go inside and they saw the stars almost as if it was outside. You have to put yourself in the mind frame of a hundred years ago. The newspaper stories from Germany talked about all these people coming out from the first planetarium theater and saying how incredible it was that you could see the stars in the daytime and that it felt like night. Over the last 20 years, there’s been a second revolution in planetariums. That has been going from a big mechanical device that looks like a giant ant, which was a bunch of lenses and lamps to just project the stars, to changing the entire planetarium dome to a digital video screen. So our planetarium, for instance, the Fiske Planetarium at the University of Colorado is 20 meters in diameter, and on that screen is 8,000 by 8,000 pixel video. Once you have a video screen, as probably almost anybody listening to this podcast knows if you’re creative, you can do marvelous things. You can create animations, you could take people inside a molecule, and you could look around, you could imagine what it would be like to fall into a black hole, or you could do what’s real with a special camera that will capture the 360 degree video. And you can go to interesting real life events like a rocket launch or an eclipse.

Margonelli: Could we back up a little bit? I got the impression for that maybe you started actually working on in a planetarium long before this era, like in your college days at Griffith Planetarium. So you were originally attracted to the immersive experience of the huge ant, like the big metallic projector. And what I remember from when I was a kid was that those projectors, they smelled, they had that machine smell. They were kind of, they were wonderful and scary, and they were a very physical thing. So tell me a little bit about your interest in planetariums growing up.

What other field of science has over a quarter of a million hobbyists who have their own telescope and practice?

Duncan: Well, I think the powerful sight and even mechanical smell of the big old Zeiss projectors was very powerful and and got a lot of kids’ curiosity. But honestly, the thing that really got my curiosity was the subject matter. I, of course, am biased as an astronomer. I decided to be an astronomer in second grade, apparently, because my mother saved all these crayon drawings of the planet. But I have always been intrigued by what’s out there. I am one of those people who looks at the sky and wonders: Does it go on forever? How could something go on forever? But if it didn’t, how could it stop? What would be on the other side? That actually used to occupy me when I was say, middle school age. And so, if I’m being honest, although the technology of planetariums was really fascinating, it was the subject matter that sucked me in. I continue to find that today.

You know, if you think of all the different sciences, I think there’s only about two that can give astronomy a run for its money in terms of bringing people in with interest. I think that the bird watchers are up there, and I think that people who enjoy the part of geology that you can see and collect minerals and gems, those are pretty high. But what other field of science has over a quarter of a million hobbyists who have their own telescope and practice? And I think it’s because of the compelling nature of the questions, and it’s also because of the fact that you can see it. I didn’t have to have, I don’t think, a great imagination to look up at the sky and see all those stars and wonder what’s out there.

You’re quite right that the planetarium is interesting technology, but it’s also really interesting subject matter. And by the way, just to finish out that thought, once the planetariums became digital, and once that dome nowadays is filled with video, I think it’s worth pointing out there’s all this whoopty do about VR goggles, you know, and it’s been hyped and over-hyped, at least the past 10 years of my life. But I would point out the whole idea of the VR goggles is when you look left, you see what’s on the left and when you look right, you see what’s on the right. Well, a modern planetarium does that without goggles. It’s the same video, but everybody gets to enjoy it together.

Margonelli: So planetariums offer this immersive experience, and for you, that has been kind of a lifelong learning, a place for an intervention around learning and to bring people into science. Can you talk a little bit, I mean, I don’t think that everybody in astronomy is as hooked on planetariums as a spot for intervention as you are.

Here’s something that probably most listeners would not know. Until fairly recently, most planetariums had surprisingly little contact with professional astronomers.

Duncan: I think there’s two reasons for that. The first one is that for so many years, planetariums showed the stars and nothing else. And you know that Zeiss machine, when it was invented a hundred years ago was miraculous, but now it’s a hundred years old. And until a couple of decades ago, most planetariums were still the original kind of projector, but astronomy itself had moved on. And so if you asked me when I was in college in the 1970s, the early 1980s, you say, “What’s interesting about astronomy?” Well, hey, we just discovered black holes, quasars, things falling into black holes, landing a rover on Mars. Well, those were the really exciting current things, but the planetariums were so old fashioned, they showed up in Woody Allen movies as a joke.

Here’s something that probably most listeners would not know. Until fairly recently, most planetariums had surprisingly little contact with professional astronomers. They were museum people, and they knew a lot about audiences, but they kept the planetarium astronomers so busy in their building that they didn’t have time to go to astronomy meetings to meet with the people who had just discovered a black hole. It was this very unfortunate dichotomy, and I think that’s why planetariums became so old fashioned. You know, if you’re a practitioner and you’re trying to publish and learn new things, boy, you gotta be on top of what’s happening. And so when I went to the Adler Planetarium, and when I left the staff of the Hubble Space Telescope in about 1991, many of my colleagues came to me from the Hubble Space Telescope, and they said, “Oh my gosh, Doug, why in the world are you going to planetariums? They’re so old fashioned.” And I looked at them and I said, “That’s why I’m going to this venerable, beautiful planetarium in Chicago.” Which was indeed very old fashioned.

And I thought, “Boy, there’s such opportunity here.” Because if you ask the typical person on the street, “if you wanna learn some astronomy, where do you go?” They don’t say, “I’m gonna go to Caltech.” They say, “I’m gonna go to Griffith Observatory, go to the planetarium.” Millions of people do every year. And so the connecting of what goes on in the planetarium with the current world of academia was the main reason I went into the planetarium world in the 1990s. And to a certain extent around the country that has been copied. And I think planetariums are on the whole much more current. They’re not showing up in any more Woody Allen movies. So I think this is good.

Margonelli: So this is interesting because you’re sort of an entrepreneur for figuring out how to get people into science. And so you saw this sort of underused space, the planetarium, and thought of a way to kind of update it, and at the same time, bring more people in. It also helped that it coincided with sort of a revolution in LEDs and video and the ability to completely change these immersive experiences in the in the planetariums. Tell me: so what happened then through that technology? I think that you were able to help planetariums across the country sort of modernize or change the programs that they were showing.

Duncan: When you talk about planetariums, half a dozen of them get all the headlines. New York, Chicago, Griffith in Los Angeles, they’re all very famous. Each one of those planetariums makes their own programs, but there’s a thousand planetariums in the US. Most of them are mid-size or small, and none of them have the staff to make their own programs.

So I saw a real opportunity here. Neil Tyson and Company make great planetarium programs outta New York, but they rent for $30,000 a year or something like that. And so a small planetarium usually can’t afford that. And I was fortunate enough to approach NASA. And NASA has twice now funded the the Fiske Planetarium at University of Colorado to make videos to make new programs 360 degree format and give them for free to all these mid-size and smaller planetariums around the country. And I couldn’t be happier. We couldn’t be happier at Fiske. Over 750 planetariums have downloaded various programs that we produce. That counts inside the US and outside the US—it’s about about 50/50. So that has been really good. Atypically, the Fiske Planetarium is embedded in one of the leading university astronomy and aerospace programs. So all I have to do is walk a couple of buildings over and there’s people sending stuff to Mars. So it makes it much easier to be very current than if you’re in a planetarium that’s isolated. It’s downtown, everybody loves it, but it’s not part of any academic institution.

Margonelli: So what you’re saying here is that you went from looking at planetariums being very disconnected from science to actually having a planetary embedded within the scientific community at the University of Colorado.

Duncan: Yes. Let’s pursue that one more step. Because to my immense pleasure for perhaps the first time in my career, the leading science research institutions in America like the National Science Foundation and NASA, they have discovered that communicating with the broad public is important to their future. So, you know, I’m coming at it from the side of, we’re the planetarium, we’d like to connect more with the researchers, but all of a sudden, if you wanna get a research grant, you have to describe what’s called a broader impact. You have to communicate what you’re doing to the public. Guess what, researchers, here we are. The way I really raised most of the money at Fiske in the beginning was when NASA said, “You know, you’ve gotta have a broader impact.” We all raised our hands and said, “Hey, broader impact is what we’re about.” Let us write the section of your grant and tell NASA, tell NSF all the ways we can connect astronomy to the public through the planetarium. So that actually worked out very well.

If scientists don’t communicate to the public what they’re doing and the value of what they’re doing, why should the public support it?

I happened to have had lunch one time with Dan Goldin. This is about, I don’t know, roughly 30 years when he was the head of NASA. And Dan Goldin was the NASA director who set up the idea that every NASA mission should spend 1% of its budget communicating with the public. And you know what, back in the original days, all of the NASA researchers hated it. I was on the staff of Hubble Telescope at roughly that time. And so many people said, “Oh my God, you’re gonna spend half a million dollars reaching out to the public. Give me the half million dollars. I wanna use it on my research program.” And that’s not what they did.

I had the chance to ask Dan Goldin, and I said, “Why did you do this?” And he said to me, “It wasn’t altruism, it’s the future. If scientists don’t communicate to the public what they’re doing and the value of what they’re doing, why should the public support it?” And that is just so true. And we as scientists often forget that. And we stub our toe. And I don’t think scientists have anyone to blame other than themselves, but a lot of scientists really denigrate their colleagues who take the time to communicate with the public. I’ll remind people who remember who Carl Sagan was. The single best science communicator I ever met or heard in my life, bar none. Absolutely. An incredible communicator. And he didn’t get tenure. And that was because he was spending too much time with the public. And I think that’s so shortsighted, but it does continue. Not everywhere, but it often continues to this day, to our detriment.

Margonelli: I wanna segue to something else that you’ve done. Okay. So one of the things that you did back when you were teaching at University of Chicago was you, you taught classes about science to students who were not on a science track, and you surveyed them and you found out some of their underlying attitudes about science. And what were those? Why were people not studying science?

Duncan: Oh, this was mind blowing. This was mind blowing to me. Okay. So I taught, because I really enjoy it, big intro class of people who are not science majors. Most astronomy departments will have two kinds of introductory classes. One is for majors, kind of heavy on the equations in math, and one for non-majors. And I always enjoyed both of them, but especially the non-majors class. And I was teaching one day, and I looked out at my students, and they were all very engaged, but I was saying to myself, “gosh, none of them are science majors and they’ve become quite enthusiastic about astronomy. I wonder if any of them would be interested in majoring in my field.” And so I stopped, and I said to the class, “I know that none of you are science majors, but you seem very engaged in the astronomy. I’d like you to take out a piece of paper and write down would I ever want to become a science major. Why or why not?” And I collected about 90 of these, and I start reading through them, and this same theme starts to come up again and again. And about the sixth or seventh time I read it, I started hitting my forehead because what the people said was, “No, I’m a creative person, so I’m doing this, I’m doing this, I’m doing English literature, I’m doing something else.” And I thought that was a real disconnect because the reason I went into science is I’m a creative person and I want to discover and create something new. But then I thought about it more carefully, and I realized that a typical college student who’s not a science major is only gonna meet a scientist in the classroom.

I began to realize that the way science is traditionally taught keeps from the students the most engaging things.

And how do we conduct ourselves in the classroom? We dress nicely, we act formally, and we only tell them things that are true because it’s in the book, and we want ’em to learn the book. And every one of those things is not honestly characteristic of scientists. People I work with dress in hoodies you know, and they’re most interested in what’s unknown, not what’s known. And so I began to realize that the way science is traditionally taught keeps from the students the most engaging things. And that was the start, one of the starts of my really changing the way that I teach.

Margonelli: So first of all, do you feel like that has its roots somewhat in the way that science is taught in the United States, and it’s sort of post-Sputnik kind of formation?

Duncan: The good or the bad, you know, the old or the newer approach?

Margonelli: The old approach has its roots in that, in that older post-Sputnik sort of approach?

Duncan: No, I don’t think so. And I’m pretty confident that it has its roots in the culture and formality of university teaching. You know, I was at the University of Chicago, that’s the most formal place that I’ve hung out. We’ve got professors in the men in Tweed Coats. My goodness, there have been at least one place that I taught where ties were required. So I do think that the formality should not be blamed on the scientists. It should be blamed on the older style of university teaching. And that’s pretty much gone. But you know, that that vestige of how you should comport yourself as, as a professor, that I think that still has can have a negative effect.

Margonelli: I think it seems that in exploring how science fails to sometimes communicate with the public, some of this has involved kind of looking inward and thinking about the stories that science tells to itself, for example, that it’s about being competitive, that you need to compete to have the best ideas, or people have talked about how you need to stake out an idea and then defend it, and that some of these ideas are kind of unscientific.

Duncan: I think you’ve touched onto something which is very important. It has been extremely controversial, and I think it’s controversial still—maybe not as extremely—and that is: Is there more than one way to do good science? And the model under which I was taught, now that I reflect on decades of seeing it in action, is a very male model. It’s very competitive. And the idea is you do some research, you give a talk on it, and all the other people in the room are supposed to critique it. And if there are any weaknesses, that critique is supposed to bring them out. And then you’re supposed to make it better because you’ve been told that’s stupid. You shouldn’t have done that. Improve it. I think there’s some truth in that, you know, that can work. But some people who originally were contrarians said, “Is that the best way to do science? Is the competitive model the only one? What if you had a cooperative model?” And instead of, you know, all trying to shoot each other down, work together.

And as time has gone on, I personally have seen more and more value to that. The particular NASA program, which has funded my outreach through planetariums, has roughly two dozen grant holders across the US. And we have all been told—and we meet pretty routinely—we’ve been told we’re expected to cooperate, to do things together, to help each other out, to leverage each other’s programs. Well, in that environment, I have seen with my very own eyes that it’s really helpful, you know, when the programs are cooperating, they’re reaching more people, the programs are getting better.

I see increasing value in being cooperative. And so the kind of the old model where science is very cutthroat and probably scares a lot of people away from it as a professional field because of that, that is not the only model.

Now that’s only one part of NASA. There’s another part of NASA, you know, that competes missions, and they only have a limited amount of funding. So are they gonna go to Mars? Are they gonna go to the moon of Jupiter? Who’s gonna get the money? And those proposals are very, very competitive, and everybody works really hard to make the best proposal. So I do see some value in being competitive, but I see increasing value in being cooperative. And so the kind of the old model where science is very cutthroat and probably scares a lot of people away from it as a professional field because of that, that is not the only model. In fact, back when I was at Space Telescope in 1990, we put together the first conference in the history of astronomy to look at the sociology of our field. It was called Women in Astronomy. Nowadays it’s called Women in Astronomy I, because there have been some more meetings. But that was the first time I ever heard raised the methodology of doing science.

Who does it engage? Who does it scare away? And so it, it’s, it’s not very typical in my experience for physical scientists, at least to be self-reflective like that, you know, we didn’t take, I never took a course in sociology or psychology, but it seems pretty important every once in a while to look in the mirror, look around at your field and say is this field engaging everyone that it could? And if it’s not, what is it that you’re doing or not doing? That’s being a barrier to people. And fortunately, those discussions have happened a lot more. I don’t agree with all of them. You know, not all ideas for engaging people are, are good. but it’s important to figure out what is the right way to engage more people.

Margonelli: Well, thank you. This is interesting that, I mean, there’s so much discussion now about science education in the United States and the need to bring in what is sometimes called the missing millions: people who could come into science but are turned off in one way or another or not welcomed. And there’s also there’s the fact that we live in an increasingly technological and science informed world. And you can’t really be a citizen without knowing quite a bit of science. I mean, it’s very hard to just make a decision about when to call your doctor without some sense of science. So, frequently the model focuses on what the public doesn’t know. The scientists model of this frequently focuses on things the public must know. And one of the things that your trip through planetariums and astronomy and schools and informal learning situations and now eclipses brings about is that it takes a fair amount of introspection for scientists to think about how to be more open.

Duncan: Well, I think engaging—certainly openness is one aspect of making feel people feel welcome and engage—but I’m gonna say something which is different from what many people are saying nowadays. You know, how do you engage people who haven’t previously been engaged in science? And I would, I would never downplay the fact that role models are important. You know, they are. If you can see an astronaut and imagine that, gosh, one day I could be an astronaut, that’s important. And if there were no women who are astronauts, as was true up until the time of my PhD, or there are no minorities who are astronauts, that’s a big negative because you can’t see somebody and as readily identify. But I’m not convinced that that’s the number one thing.

Universities would be better if they worked like my science museum in the sense that every time time you come to class, you pay $20. Okay? If instead of collecting all the money upfront, we did it like a museum does, oh, classes would be so much better. They’d be more engaging.

Here’s what I think is the number one thing. The best science museum on planet Earth is the Exploratorium in San Francisco. It is so good that the French National Science Museum, La Villette, 10% of it is copied from the Exploratorium in America. The French never copy Americans except the Exploratorium is so good. And in this time of Oppenheimer, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it was Robert Oppenheimer’s brother Frank who invented this wonderful science museum. If you go into the Exploratorium, you see an extremely diverse group of young people in there. Why is that? It’s not because somebody has invited them or told them the story that they belong. It’s because it’s fun. There’s electricity that you can play with and there’s all kinds of things that you can play with and get hands on and discover for yourself. It was designed to be the opposite of an old traditional museum with every beautiful thing under glass. Everything is out and everything has a sign on it. Touch me, play with me. You know? And I think that’s underestimated.

I think that if you give people just the chance to do things which are hands-on and fun and accessible, that, especially with younger people, everybody loves that. Once you get to be older, you start to get indoctrinated that, well, these are for boys and these are for girls, these are for white people. These are not for you. But you know, at the age that museums really try and engage people, every fourth grader loves the Exploratorium. And I think that’s because we learn as humans through curiosity, right? We learn through experimentation. Every young person is born a scientist. I remember my daughter, she was quite a scientist. I can’t remember exactly how old she was, about a year old sitting in her highchair? When she discovered gravity. Ooh, the spoon falls. Ooh, the food falls. Ooh, look at that. It splattered all over the ground. So much fun. We learn in the same way that scientists learn, right? Of course, science becomes more formal. But I think that what we need to do is to not inhibit people through the wrong kind of schooling. And that’s why it can be fun to work at a museum, because, you know, I jokingly say schools, universities would be better if they worked like my science museum in the sense that every time time you come to class, you pay $20. Okay? If instead of collecting all the money upfront, we did it like a museum does, oh, classes would be so much better. They’d be more engaging. The students would not only learn, but they would have a relatively good time, because that would be one of the goals. So the good science museums succeed by both teaching, engaging, and enjoying at the same time. And they have the motivation to do that because otherwise people won’t come back.

Margonelli: And on that note, this has been a really fun conversation. It’s been very nice to talk to you and we’ve covered a lot of ground. Thank you very much, Doug.

Duncan: It’s been a great pleasure. And thanks for spreading these good words.

Margonelli: If you would like to learn more about Doug Duncan’s work, check out the resources in our show notes. 

Please subscribe to The Ongoing Transformation wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks to our podcast producer, Kimberly Quach, and our audio engineer Shannon Lynch. I’m Lisa Margonelli, Editor in Chief at Issues in Science and Technology. Thank you for listening.

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Cite this Article

Duncan, Douglas, and Lisa Margonelli. “This Eclipse Could Make You Cry–And Make New Scientists.” Issues in Science and Technology ().