LYNN SCARFF is director of Science Gallery Dublin, a public science centre at Trinity College with a programme FUSING SCIENCE, ART AND DESIGN. Home to exhibitions and lectures, including the TEDxDublin series, Science Gallery is now expanding to eight locations worldwide …
What sparked your interest in science?
A number of things, but one was growing up by the coast, in Portmarnock. There’s a huge number of fossils there. One of the most interesting fossils you can access easily by yourself is on Low Rock, between Portmarnock and Malahide.
You originally wanted to be a marine biologist. What changed?
I realised spending long periods of time doing field research on my own didn’t gel with my personality type. I like to be working with other people.
Were you involved with Science Gallery from the start?
Very much so. In the early days there were just four of us on the team, working incredibly long hours. We had absolute devotion to the project. I had my first child three years ago, but I joke it was like having the second!
Did you realise TEDxDublin would garner so much international attention?
Panti’s talk [on homophobia] was incredibly popular. It was a brilliant talk. TEDx is about great storytellers speaking about what they’re passionate about. That’s always compelling.
One of your own talks was recently awarded a prize by Euroscience Open Forum.
Yes, for science communications. I was giving a talk about art and science, and had no idea it was being listened to by judges. It’s nice to win an award you didn’t know you were even in the running for!
Are you trained in public speaking?
No, but I taught in primary and secondary schools for a while. If you can hold the attention of a rowdy group of 13-year-old boys, you can handle any crowd. After that, it’s just honing it for your audience.
The Science Gallery has quite a young team – many of the mediators are students. Is that deliberate?
Absolutely. Our target audience is 15-25 year olds, so it’s important that we have a dynamic team. I sometimes think our mediators have the most important job in the gallery. They’re the ones engaging our visitors in conversation.
If you could learn a new skill what would it be?
I’d either learn to build things using Arduino microcontrollers [small computer boards] or do a pottery course. Worlds apart!
Was it tough to choose between sciences and arts subjects in school?
It was quite annoying. I decided to choose science but keep art as an interest. I was good at art though!
Do you still practice it?
I do printmaking when I have time, particularly linoprint. I prefer traditional work to video or new media art, contrary to what you might expect.
Do you own any art?
I do, but I buy art I think is beautiful, and because I love it. It’s mostly by artists who aren’t very established.
Notebooks or computers?
Notebooks. Nothing has ever replaced that joy of crossing something out with a biro on a list.
When do you get your best ideas?
It’s that period when you’re reflecting on your day. The shower is a classic. Or when I’m talking about something entirely different, and it might trigger something else.
How can we make Dublin a better city?
Making sure people stay in the city centre – there’s usually a point where we have to move to the suburbs. But Dublin’s connectedness is what makes it great. If we can accommodate families and different age groups, we’ll have a much more continuously vibrant city.
Last year, An Post issued a Science Gallery stamp, to celebrate its record-breaking attendance figures. Where do you go from here?
We’re currently building Science Gallery International. The goal is to have eight galleries in a global network by 2020 – London, New York, Melbourne and Bengaluru will be first. When this idea we conceived of seven years ago becomes a global phenomenon, that for me will be the shiver-down-the-spine moment.
This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our February issue, out Thursday February 4.
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