Public Understanding of Science
"Scienza. Come è fatto chi la fa?" is a project meant to shed light on the
perception that young students nowadays have of people working in science, in particular Astrophysics.
Students drawings and questionnaires of students attending primary and lower secondary school
(6 - 13 years old) all over the Country are used to build the knowledge database of the research.
What the young people think "astronomer are" is an important dimension of analysis for studies
on public understanding of science and it can allow to focus on the factors that we have to take in mind when we
start a new program of public outreach. This project will investigate which recurrent elements, metaphors and
stereotypes can be identified and where they come from. A grid of 80 parameters is used to analyse each of the
nearly 1000 drawings. The main goal is to disentangle if we can recognize that something is changing, perhaps
mediated by television, comics or movies, in the perception of Science and Astrophysics in particular.
The three phases of the project are:
Something new happened in the social representation of people working in science!
In fact, data show that new generations (age 6 - 8 years old) represent more women involved in scientific careers. Actually it regards a female trend: young girls tend to represent 62% of women (older girls - aged 9 - 13 years - represent a lower percentage of women, almost 50 %).
On the other side, boys don't change their representation of gender; all three sub-samples of primary and secondary school show a constant trend: boys tend to represent male scientist in the 90% of cases.
We can't state if this change depends on a new generational model or just on life experience. Only a longitudinal research will say it.
ASTRONOMERS: ARE THEY REALLY SCIENTISTS?
According with the most part of variables, astronomers look quite different from scientists and chemists! They embody the "good science", far away from symbols of danger or explosions.
On one side we find the general category of scientists and chemists, represented quite often as bald men with a lab coat, spectacles and working with beakers in a enclosed lab. On the other side there are astronomers: working outdoors, in contact with nature, they usually look at the sky. Astronomers don't explode things, are quite safe and look like "one of us"...
Also without messy hair or a crazy appearance... you can be astronomer!