A Science Communications Challenge

Winner of the ten-hundred and one word challenge.
Winner of the ten-hundred and one word challenge.

Here’s your challenge: create a poster about highly technical research. So far, so good. You can use images, photos, or cartoons, but — here comes the kicker — you can only use 1,000 of the most common English words.

Speaking as a guy who has to write about science and research and is typically up to my elbows in research papers, I do not accept this challenge! But, luckily, there are Penn Staters who are much more creative and courageous than I am.

A Penn State group from the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation not only took this challenge, they won it. They beat out 45 other Energy Frontier Research Centers. The contest was inspired by a cartoon in the popular XKCD cartoon that uses the most common English words to describe the blueprints of NASA’s Saturn V rocket, or an Up Goer 5. It’s pretty funny. Check it out.

If you have a second, you can read some of there other winners at the challenge website, too.

Daniel Cosgrove, who leads the Center for Lignocellulose Structure and Formation, said that the contest emphasizes the importance of science and research communications and was a good exercise for the group. The center is investigating the use of plant material as a possible source of sustainable energy and communicating their goals to the general audience is necessary.

Science is a knowledge system. It’s how we find out things. But knowledge that isn’t disseminated — or should I just say, “spread” — isn’t really knowledge at all, it’s only data. Information may not be free, as anyone who has paid a cable television bill knows, but it definitely wants to be shared.

Using common language to explain complex subjects is difficult, but the payoff is tremendous. The more we learn, the bigger our knowledge net becomes and the farther we can cast it for even greater discoveries.

I’m glad other people at Penn State are committed to sharing the wealth of knowledge that this University produces.

I know you are all dying to know. About 78 percent of the words I used in this post are from the list of  1,000 most common English words. I used this web calculator to figure it out. Hey, C+! That appears to be slightly better than the normal deviation. I mean, it’s a little better than average.

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