Scientists and writers unite to create approachable content

Have you ever been confused by a science report? Were you perplexed at the scientific jargon, not knowing what any of it means? Or on the flip side, have you ever had difficulty trying to explain your scientific research to an audience? 

Amongst the many Geneseo Recognizing Excellence, Achievement and Talent Day student presentations on Tuesday April 25, NeuWrite featured 12 students who discussed their work combining science and creative writing. The students worked in pairs, with one writer and one scientist. Under the guidance of distinguished teaching professor of mathematics Olympia Nicodemi and assistant professor of English Lytton Smith, these students concocted scientific research essays that are both factual and creative.

The participating students include biochemistry major junior Ryan Carpenter, biology major senior Jeffrey Doser, English major senior Maya Bergamasco, biochemistry major senior Adam Wegman, English major senior Sarah Steil, chemistry major junior Brandon Mehlenbacher, biology and vocal performance double major senior Hannah Loo, comparative literature major senior Emily Ramirez, mathematics major senior Shayne O’Brien, biology major junior Rachel Powers, English and economics double major senior Brendan Mahoney and English creative writing major senior Oliver Diaz. 

The students began their presentation by discussing their overall writing progress and the background of NeuWrite. Started in Columbia in 2009, the NeuWrite program created a collaboration between the graduate level neuroscience and the creative writing programs. The goal was to make the content of science research accessible to people who are not necessarily science-minded.

“I think [Neuwrite] lines up very well with what you might consider a lot of our school’s values,” Mahoney said. “Liberal arts really lends itself to a breadth of education and this program is all about that breadth. Science is central for us to graduate, but I think that more broadly it’s essential just to engage in the world around us.”

The process of writing these scientific creative essays mirrored that of any other creative writing process at Geneseo: workshops and rewriting. The science students felt that not only was workshopping helpful for editing purposes, but it also was beneficial hearing feedback from fellow scientists.

 “[The creative writer’s] goal is to make ourselves more critical as thinkers, but also as communicators and collaborators,” Diaz said. 

They also wanted to get people who normally would not gravitate toward scientific research to become engaged with the subject area, according to Steil.

After a discussion on the program itself, the writers and scientists shared excerpts of their work. Together, Carpenter and Powers authored “Color-coded,” a scientific essay analyzing the reasoning behind the colors of bowls that attract certain insects. The piece neatly combines science and literature, as Powers described Carpenter’s findings at his summer internship at the Smithsonian Museum.

It was especially insightful to notice the distinct perspectives from the writers, most of who had little experience with the scientists’ work. Diaz offered a unique perspective on his collaboration with Mehlenbacher. Diaz wrote their “Quantum Dots in Six Easy Chapters” from an inexperienced perspective, offering some humor and relation to a non-scientific audience.

The Geneseo NeuWrite students certainly achieved the goal of their program—all essays were interesting, informative and easy to understand, regardless of the audience’s background. Whether the readers of these papers are scientists or creative writers, the work of these students is fascinating and intriguing to read—even if you still don’t understand what quantum dots are.