DiStruc

The Dutch Soft Matter Meeting aims at providing a regular forum of discussion and exchange between Master and PhD Students, Postdocs, and Senior Scientists working on topics of soft condensed matter physics in the Netherlands. This year's meeting was held on 9th May 2017 at the Delft Science Centre. It featured several scheduled talks and short soundbites by researchers from various soft matter groups.

The DiStruc fellow Shari Finner (Van der Schoot group, TU Eindhoven) used a very creative approach to present her soundbite "Percolation theory of lyotropic liquid crystals" (see Abstracts). Enjoy reading her inspiring story!

The Soundbite of Music - A slightly unusual research pitch

For the 22nd Dutch Soft Matter meeting in Delft, I decided to pitch my research topic with a so-called “soundbite”. The concept: You get a computer, a projector, and three minutes of stage presence in order to get people interested in your work. That’s it!

Sounds easy, right? Except that the shortest talks are the most difficult to prepare. How can you convey just the right amount of information in three minutes without boring people to death or overwhelming them with facts?

In principle, the final goal of my research is quite intuitive and easy to convey: We want to make polymeric materials that conduct electricity and are transparent at the same time. Conducting plastics that could be used for anything ranging from flexible touchscreens to solar cells. But if I subsequently mention how beautiful and versatile my integral equation theory is, I usually look into blank faces …

Inspired by the name "soundbite", I decided to take a more radical approach than just a few minutes of plain talking. Why not sing the whole thing? I feared that singing a song would be inappropriate for the official program of a scientific gathering. I had to remind myself that the Dutch Soft Matter community is quite supportive and open to new ideas. Then I started to put it all together.

A ukulele seemed like the perfect instrument for my plan: it is easy to play and nice to sing along to. And it is just small enough to carry on stage concealed for an element of surprise. Choosing a song was a slightly bigger challenge, so I kept listening to the radio for weeks. You know you’ve got the right song when you’re lying in bed trying to sleep and the catchy song is still stuck in your head! That was the moment when I started to come up with scientific texts that matched the rhythm. For the following three days, synonym and rhyme dictionaries were my best friends. In the end, after completing the lyrics, I prepared a power point presentation visualising the contents and timed it to a recording of my song.

The end result can be found here: https://youtu.be/D24Ue_KpNtg

My conclusion? I have no regrets! All reactions were exclusively positive, many of them enthusiastic! As a scientist, my sample was biased. Obviously, you are less likely to be approached by someone who would just tell you to your face that they hated your presentation. But then again, what you don't know won't hurt you ;) Of course there were lots of doubts. What if my voice fails? What if I hit the wrong notes? What if it IS inappropriate after all? Is it worse to fail or not even try? It was definitely a project way out of my comfort zone, but I am happy I’ve crossed that line. We all like a little challenge, don't we?

Shari Finner (Van der Schoot group, TU Eindhoven)