Between materials modelling and the public, you will meet Hermes

Dimitra Spathara
Sep 18, 2016 · 4 min read
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At a staircase of Cumberland Lodge

I first considered applying for Hermes Summer School in 2014, as it offered a great opportunity to be found amongst many young researchers interested in the same thing as I; materials modelling. The location was near London, but not anywhere familiar. Cumberland Lodge in Great Windsor Park might as well be miles away from London, from all the resemblance it had with the city I knew so well. It was, therefore, a great opportunity to be in a new place, talk about modelling methods and tools that were of interest to me and get together with other PhD researchers. The experience did not disappoint me, to say the least! Hermes is an entirely student-led project that brings together materials modelling and science communication. The main aim is to offer an opportunity to young researchers to learn how to convey effectively the messages obtained by their research to broader audiences. The name itself is telling of the school’s endeavour: Hermes was the ancient Greek Gods’ messenger.

Hermes summer school is organised and led mainly by former participants and is a unique event for stimulating discussions, inspiring talks and motivational personal development evolving through team work. As a participant in 2014, I attended masterclasses that were given from world-class academics. Working in teams, we competed for the science communication task. It was both relaxing and intense. Experts in the field of communications were guiding as through the process of getting engaged with laymen audiences and as such quite different from those we are used to presenting our work. There were rules and limits but entirely different from the ones we consider in our fields. We had to train ourselves on being plausible, while talking about research in a catchy and entertaining way. No figures and graphs, no numbers in mind, no visual aid! Yet, we had a task. To invite our audience to step in our materials world by listening our story and go away with some new knowledge.

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It was refreshing and unexpected to see top-class academics devoting their limited time to encourage and support young researchers with their challenges. On the other hand, I met people studying and working as PhD researchers like myself, and our common goals, ideas and concepts created a very interesting group dynamic. During these four days, a word cloud emerged in my mind, among already familiar jargon; ‘engaged researcher’, ‘science communication’, and more importantly, ‘Data Visualisation’. By the time I was completing the feedback form at the very last session, I knew I wanted to be part of Hermes 2016. And I already had some ideas about how Data Visualisation could be the focal point. So, I put them forth and after a few chats and a great deal of enthusiasm, I became part of the Organising Committee.

The winning data visual at Hermes 2016 competition for the science communication task. Explaining how the flow of the river changes in various points when a boat is introduced following the river’s flow by using the Lattice Boltzmann theory, developed by Professor Sauro Succi. The colour gradient depicts the different speed of the water; with the maximum speed in the centre of the river. Created by: Hikmat Hasan,-Stefano Mensa, Khaled Maskoud, Charlie Penny, Roya Moghaddasi Fereidani-and Amrit Sarmah. Follow #HermesSummerSchool to find more.

Bouncing our ideas through discussions, posts, and emails wasn’t hard at all. We were all former participants of Hermes and the goals were already defined through our experience. In the following two years of preparation we were all consumed on working out what should be the context in which the conference should delve. Ideas were abundant: about the modelling topics, which speakers to invite, which sponsors will be added to the already established list of previous supporters, what would be the networking events and more importantly the science communication theme of the following summer school. Some of us took up additional activities to find out a bit more of what we would lead others to follow. Our ultimate goal was to transfer to newcomers the spark we felt as participants ourselves, hoping they would return home with their own word clouds in mind and perhaps a few queries to think about later.

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Professor Sauro Succi on stage: ‘Computational fluids is about cheating in an honest way’ .

In the last week of this two-year project, the week Hermes 2016 took place, all the pieces of our individual contribution came together in a fantastic event. The feedback was overwhelming and it made us enjoy even more every day of the event. While we were joining the sessions and activities of each day, we did not really realise that this two-year journey was coming to a close. Yet a similar circle had already started and I am looking forward to its fulfilment in the summer of 2018.

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