Newswise — With a big push to get a global audience – young and old – excited about science, a Ph.D. student at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute is thinking outside-the-box. Hunter Hines has turned to the social media platform of Instagram to engage audiences in scientific exchange across the world and has come up with the right formula for success. He is encouraging other scientists to follow suit.
Hines, lead author and a Ph.D. student who conducted research in the McCarthy Laboratory at FAU’s Harbor Branch, along with Sally Warring, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, published an article in Nature “Careers Community” to share their experience and knowledge about using social media in microbiology outreach at a global scale. Microbiology is the study of all living things that are too small to see with the naked eye.
Hines’ Instagram account @microbialecology currently has 55,000 followers and at the end of 2018, his account received more than 1.4 million views in a single week. Around that same time, his posts also went viral and were picked up by more than 30 international outlets including National Geographic Russia.
The authors advise scientists to look at Instagram as a microphone for amplifying newly published research and current projects in real time to a much wider audience than conventional scientific publishing can manage. They note that Instagram provides an outstanding platform for scientists to share imagery from the lab, field, microscope, data figures and selfies in interesting and informative ways. Activities on their own Instagram accounts have led to ongoing collaborations with artists, filmmakers, industry professionals, community groups, start-ups and nonprofit organizations from all over the world.
While in graduate school, Hines and Warring both created Instagram accounts to share photos and video clips of microorganisms they encountered through their research. They wanted to share the wonder of what they saw through the microscope. They note that it is nearly impossible to predict what will go viral. Keeping track of the impact of their posts has provided them with experience on how to communicate microbiology with a tone that is understandable and relaxed, yet informative.
Scientists produce immense amounts of data in many different forms, and Instagram is an effective platform to share this information with a wide audience. Hines and Warring say that their goal is to stimulate interest and conversation rather than to be conclusive.
The authors’ time on Instagram has left them thinking about the great public interest in the daily workings of science. They stress that many researchers could find a following for their work, from audiences with specialist-level interest to those with no familiarity with science.
They have found that questions can lead to general conversations about the basic biology of a cell, the nature of consciousness and intelligent life, and the role of climate change and pollution in shaping ecosystems. The more engaged scientists are with their followers, the more they will get back.
The article, “How We Use Instagram to Communicate Microbiology to the Public,” is available at www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00493-3 (Nature: doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00493-3).
Hine’s Instagram account is @microbialecology and his website is www.instagram.com/microbialecology/.
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About Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute: Founded in 1971, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University is a research community of marine scientists, engineers, educators and other professionals focused on Ocean Science for a Better World. The institute drives innovation in ocean engineering, at-sea operations, drug discovery and biotechnology from the oceans, coastal ecology and conservation, marine mammal research and conservation, aquaculture, ocean observing systems and marine education. For more information, visit www.fau.edu/hboi.
About Florida Atlantic University: Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit fau.edu.