Events & Media




"Adventures in Science Communication: Shifting from the Lab to a Museum, and the Lessons I’ve Learned Along the Way"

Jonathan Foley
Executive Director
California Academy of Sciences

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
11:30 - 12:30
Bren Hall 1414

This presentation will be live-streamed at

Scientists spend their entire lives collecting data, doing methodical research, and publishing scientific papers. But is our research really getting out in the world, making the difference we hope it will? Often it doesn’t. How can we make sure that science is communicated well, and that it gets into the larger public conversation, affecting change in the world? It will take more than universities to make this happen.

One potential ally in this mission might be museums. American museums are among the largest cultural institutions in the world, and serve nearly 1 billion visitors a year — more than all of the sports stadiums and theme parks in the nation combined. Also, museums are the most trusted institutions left in the nation — with approval ratings of nearly 80-90% from Republicans and Democrats. Finally, museums are on the front lines of science education: nearly 70% of what Americans learn about science happens in informal settings, and museums are the largest informal science educators in the nation.

In this presentation, I will discuss my transition from academic research on the environment (at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota) to science communication on sustainability (at the California Academy of Sciences), and the lessons he has learned along the way. Together, we will explore the opportunities for institutions to collaborate, and make sure we can all do good science, and that our science does good in the world.

Jonathan Foley is a world-leading environmental scientist who has worked on issues of climate change, sustainable agriculture, and global ecological change. Recently, he was director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, where he led large, interdisciplinary efforts in sustainability. In 2014, he left the academic world to lead the the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, with the goal of turning one of world’s most forward-looking museums into the leading NGO for sustainability science and education.

The Zurich Financial Services Distinguished Visitors Program on Climate Change allows the Bren School to attract international leaders in environmental policy, law, business, and science to enrich and expand the intellectual life of the Bren School community and share insight on issues critical to climate change. Activities of the visitors, who are in residence for periods ranging from one week to one quarter, include teaching short courses, offering public lectures, conducting seminars, and leading colloquia and symposia planned around their research, professional endeavors, or areas of expertise.

NOTE: Community colloquia are generally talks of broad interest geared toward a diverse, sophisticated audience. Their purpose is not only to enhance knowledge and understanding, but also to bring people together and promote interaction that will strengthen the community.


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