Chasing the Waves

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


'Chasing the Waves' is a live, interactive and musical show which tells the story of what has been hailed as "one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the century": the detection of gravitational waves. The show will draw on the research and experiences of scientists directly involved in this discovery, allowing the public to gain a behind-the-scenes insight into the world of research. 'Chasing the Waves' will be targeted to upper secondary schools in areas of multiple deprivation and a general public audience.

This exciting, collaborative project will bring together public engagement practitioners at Glasgow Science Festival, University of Glasgow physicists from the Institute of Gravitational Research including Prof Martin Hendry and Dr Peter Murray, musician Stuart Cromarty and actor and writer Emily Benita, in order to fulfil the following aims:

- To promote collaboration between scientists and the arts community, in order to produce engaging, physics-inspired content that appeals to a non-scientifically trained audience, or people who do not usually engage with science
- To communicate the research and experiences of the STFC-funded Glasgow physicists and astronomers involved in the detection of gravitational waves
- To promote and celebrate the UK contribution to the detection of gravitational waves and explain the significance of this discovery
- To share the history of the search for gravitational waves, from Einstein's prediction in 1916 through to the present day, including the Glasgow story
- To connect Glaswegians with the research happening right on their doorstep
- To break down perceived barriers between scientists and the public by enabling face-to-face contact at fun, informal events
- To connect with school pupils from areas of multiple deprivation through positive and memorable learning experiences, encouraging interest and recruitment into science subjects and careers
- To give researchers a platform to share what they do with the public and practise skills in communication

The predicted overall impacts of this project are:

- An increased awareness of STFC-funded research among school children, teachers and the general public
- Raised aspirations and awareness of career opportunities among school pupils from areas of multiple deprivation
- Support and increased confidence for teachers in presenting cutting-edge research in the classroom, linking to the Curriculum for Excellence, 'Topical Science'
- By fostering relationships with researchers and members of the arts community during 'Chasing the Waves', this will aid development of future collaborative projects and events
- In our experience of previous projects, there will be a meaningful impact on the researchers involved; researchers who participate in our public engagement projects are supported through training and content development, giving them the confidence to pursue further activities over the course of their careers.
- We also anticipate that this project will have a positive impact on the careers and skills development of the arts performers, connecting them with new sources of inspiration and new audiences.
- Many high-end theatre productions (e.g. Edinburgh Fringe shows) are costly to deliver, with significant technical requirements and setup. The project will enable us to test the short-form musical theatre format as a low-cost, engaging and collaborative method of public engagement; this will allow us to develop a model for application to other subjects for future delivery by us, or by other science communicators.
- We predict that using the arts as a 'hook' will allow us to effectively reach people who do not usually engage with science. By targeting this public, we hope to break down perceived barriers and encourage attendance of this demographic at future science events.

Planned Impact

We will market our free shows to secondary schools through the STEMNET service, Local Education Authorities as well as the Glasgow Science Festival mailing list, which includes teachers as subscribers. In particular, we will target schools in postcodes lying in areas of multiple deprivation.

Our drinks reception and 'taster' show for researchers will be promoted internally through the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Glasgow, with ample opportunity for feedback and discussion of ideas/the show's content.

The adult show will be marketed using the Glasgow Science Festival website, mailing list and social media (Facebook: 2,229 'likes'; Twitter: 2,999). We will also make use of listing websites like The Skinny and The List (popular with our target audience), University of Glasgow corporate communications, Glasgow City of Science and other networks. A press release will be composed and distributed in order to gain news coverage for the event.

We will create a project section on the GSF website dedicated to 'Chasing the Waves' which will host a series of resources, including: blog interviews with scientists, a storyboard of the project and its development, evaluation video and more, providing an informal and engaging resource for the public and educators. Questions posed to physicists during the careers section of our school events will also be noted and used to create a resource for use in the classroom by teachers and other educators. This will be supplemented with additional materials and links to further learning. Materials will be available online for easy, free access.

At the end of the project, our report will be freely available to other public engagement practitioners.

In order to capture the challenges, lessons learned and experiences of the team, we will film and edit an evaluation video. The video will include footage from the shows and our team focus meeting at the end of the project. This will be hosted on our website and distributed via the PSCI-Comm Mailing List, Sci Comm Scotland Facebook Group, GSF Social Media and other networks.

GSF are often invited to give talks at science communication conferences and public engagement events. We will use such opportunities to highlight 'Chasing the Waves' as a case study, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of our project for shared learning.


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Title 'Chasing the Waves' theatre show 
Description 'Chasing the Waves' is a live show which tells the story of how Glasgow scientists helped contribute to the discovery of the century: the detection of gravitational waves. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact The show was performed to 576 school pupils, 54 teachers and 118 adults in December 2016. Audiences reported a positive effect on attitudes towards science/scientists, as well an increase in interest/engagement with the subject of gravitational wvaes. 
Description University of Glasgow's Chancellor's Fund
Amount £3,270 (GBP)
Organisation University of Glasgow 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Description Chasing the Waves: Theatre Show for Adult and School Audiences 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact 'Chasing the Waves' was a pioneering project funded by the STFC that brought together University of Glasgow scientists, Glasgow Science Festival, actors and a musician for a truly collaborative venture.

Over the course of several months, the team developed a live, musical show which tells the story of what has been hailed as "one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the century": the detection of gravitational waves. The aim was to share this discovery with new audiences, including school children and adults who do not usually engage with science. The project also provided an opportunity for scientists to develop and apply skills in public engagement; and for members of the arts community to work collaboratively with scientists.

'Chasing the Waves' writers, Dr Zara Gladman and Emily Benita worked closely with the University of Glasgow's Prof Martin Hendry and others from the Institute for Gravitational Research to develop the script and provide a behind-the-scenes insight to the world of research. A preview show held in November allowed physicists and astronomers to share feedback on the production, shaping the content of the final show.

In December 2016, 576 school pupils, 54 teachers and 118 adults attended seven free shows held at the University of Glasgow and the newly refurbished Kelvin Hall. Schools from areas of multiple deprivation (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) were given priority booking. A total of 19 schools booked to attend our shows; following two cancellations, the number of schools attending was 17. Schools attended from a wider geographical area than anticipated, with bookings from Glasgow, Paisley, Kirkintilloch, East Kilbride, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Dumbarton, East Dunbartonshire and Dumfries, as well as two home-schooled pupils. Our adult show sold out within 24 hours. We were delighted with this response; audience numbers exceeded our original targets, demonstrating a desire among the public and schools for events of this kind.

Blending comedy, music and visuals, the finished 'Chasing the Waves' show invited audiences to discover how Glasgow scientists helped detect ripples in space-time, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago. Featuring a "LIGO" dance, black-hole doughnut analogies and even a 70s-disco hit penned by musician Stuart Cromarty (viewable here:, the complex science and human story behind the discovery were explored in a unique way.
Each performance was coupled with a Q&A led by the scientists who inspired the show - and who subsequently, inspired the public with their passion for science. Participating scientists included Prof Martin Hendy, Prof Jim Hough, Prof Sheila Rowan, Dr Peter Murray, Brynley Pearlstone, Jennifer Wright, Daniel Williams and Gregoire Lacaille.

In order to assess the impact of the events on our audiences, we conducted pre- and post-show surveys and evaluation activities. Based on the result of pre-show surveys, 59.8% of our adult audience had no science background, and over 70% had little or no knowledge of gravitational waves. 72.4% of school pupils had not previously attended a science show. Our post-show evaluation indicated that 100% of adults, 100% of teachers and 91.6% school pupils learned something new from our events. A majority also indicated that 'Chasing the Waves' made them feel more engaged or interested in the topic, and the events promoted a positive attitude towards science and scientists. 100% of teachers indicated that they would be interested in future events like this. You can view more audience feedback here:

In addition to development and delivery of the live shows and Q&As, we were successful in developing pre- and post- show resources for school pupils, enabling deeper engagement with the science; we also produced a 'Chasing the Waves' section on our website, which features blog interviews, photographs and videos, including audience feedback and tips for other science communicators looking to pursue similar projects. We have shared these videos via social media and will use them at future presentations/conferences where appropriate, to communicate lessons learned. Feedback was gathered from the organising team at an end-of-project focus meeting and will be used to inform future work.

Our project reached hundreds of people beyond those who attended the live shows. The 'Chasing the Waves' music video, which was used as a trailer to promote the show, has received 1,148 views on YouTube, and 6,416 views on the University of Glasgow's Facebook page to date. We were also featured on national TV (STV News) and radio (BBC Radio Scotland).

To conclude, were successful in fulfilling all outcomes and exceeded our audience targets, with positive feedback from all involved. We have fostered mutually beneficially relationships with members of the arts community and scientists, which will enable future collaborations. We are keen to build on the success of 'Chasing the Waves' and pursue more arts-science projects in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016