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Talking Science with Nonscientists: A Personal Communication

I remember it clearly. It was a warm Friday evening in August. I stood with a beer in my hand, making small talk at a graduate school party. It wasn't long before a new acquaintance, a student of ethnic music, asked, "What does an organic chemist do?" "Mmm ...," I muttered. I stared intently at my beer, swirled it a bit, and wished fervently for a napkin, a ballpoint pen, and a hard, clear surface to write on. But ... no. Complex drawings and scattershot arrows wouldn't interest her, and I'd h

James Kling

I remember it clearly. It was a warm Friday evening in August. I stood with a beer in my hand, making small talk at a graduate school party. It wasn't long before a new acquaintance, a student of ethnic music, asked, "What does an organic chemist do?"

"Mmm ...," I muttered. I stared intently at my beer, swirled it a bit, and wished fervently for a napkin, a ballpoint pen, and a hard, clear surface to write on. But ... no. Complex drawings and scattershot arrows wouldn't interest her, and I'd have lost before I connected the first line.

"It's a little like the Legos you played with when you were a kid--you find different ways to construct molecules," I eventually decided. There--I detected a spark of interest. You can talk science face to face with a lay audience and make it interesting. But it's a bit different from presenting...

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