CUB#5: On visualisation, gamification, and science communication.

  • Co-authored by Anelda van der Walt, Natasha Wood and David Matten.

17 March 2015

“We don’t just want to develop games, we want to change the world” is what Glenn Gillis, managing director of Sea Monster, had to say about their company’s vision when he welcomed a group of bioinformaticians and computational biologists on Monday evening.

These words resonate well with the researchers and postgraduate students who visited the Sea Monster offices in Gardens, Cape Town, to discuss innovative ideas for science communication, education, and visualisation.  The event forms part of the Cape Unseminars in Bioinformatics initiative that was recently established by Dr Natasha Wood and Gustavo Salazar in order to provide opportunities to explore new ways of communicating and developing bioinformatics amongst students, researchers, and non-scientists.

Effective communication is key, both within and outside of academia. Wynand (Munki) Groenewald, Gillis’ partner and creative director at Sea Monster, provided a number of tips for good storytelling, an artform that is not often associated with scientists.  One of the most important tips, in his eyes, is to really understand who your audience is and to engage each listener individually. Other examples included trying to think of five words to describe what you do, or to practice an “elevator pitch” to both peers and non-scientists alike.

The informal event was attended by bioinformaticians from various institutes across South Africa, including WITS, University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch, University of the Western Cape, University of Cape Town, the Centre for Proteomics and Genomics Research as well as Talarify, a local bioinformatics startup company. Some of the latest products developed by Sea Monster were showcased, which transpired into stimulating discussions on the underlying premise and purpose for each application.  These conversations prompted further debates on the use of augmented reality in scientific poster presentations and infographics, as well as the use of gamification in tackling complex research questions.  The concept of using both intrinsic as well as extrinsic reward and gratification in learning and development was another topic where the hosts and participants shared the same vision and enthusiasm.

Although it might be hard to imagine what an animation studio and a bunch of researchers could possibly have in common, it was clear that the same passion was shared and that there are many touching points that remain to be explored.  Interlacing the commonalities between two seemingly disparate disciplines opens such a vast world of interesting ideas that we truly do feel like we will change the world.

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