If you are the sort of person who values a list of speakers, a pre-scheduled agenda and a few printed abstracts, this might not be your idea of a scientific conference either. SciBarCamp bills itself as a ‘user-generated’ gathering of scientists, artists and technologists. On the opening night, world-renowned quantum theorists are lined up alongside local artists to propose workshop topics for the weekend. Quirky titles such as ‘Open Source Drug Development’ and ‘Science Stuff in Second Life’ are scrawled down, pinned up, democratically voted on and assembled into an ad-hoc agenda. Long powerpoint presentations are banned. Interactivity is highly encouraged.
The result has a jamboree feel. One participant brought along a couple of Mars-rover robots for show and tell. Another has parked his solar racing car outside. An ad-hoc citizens’ jury about synthetic biology is followed by a percussive performance of Richard Feynman’s speeches. Physicists and jazz singers lead discussions on whether technology makes us happy. Sci Fi writers seek help on plot details. At the ‘Quantum Mechanics For Ten Year Olds’ session [led by Daniel Gottesman – ed], all questions from the audience receive an appropriately quantum answer of ‘Yes AND no’. Any remaining barrier between speaker and audience dissolves into laughter.
‘It’s a huge improvement on the regular science conference format – those usually suck the life and joy out of these things,’ says SciBarCamper Paul Bloore, a local software entrepreuner. His friend Melina Strathopoulos concurs. ‘Its a literal “confer-ence” where people are actually conferring,’ she points out, ‘rather than just an “attend-ance” .’