The Hummingbird

21 07 2012

Sometimes we writers need to provide a respite from our all-too-tumultuous, sometimes-tragic world. In a departure from this blog’s usual topic, here’s a little story from the mountains of North Carolina:

I first saw the hummingbird as I was moving furniture on the screened porch. He was a bedraggled clump of feathers no larger than a cotton ball, slumped on the floor, wings spread. He had clearly been trapped in the porch after having flown in the open door, and had worn himself out flying against the screen. I felt responsible because the day before, I’d left the door open while cleaning. It was a sad irony that the little bird had flown thousands of miles from Central America on his migration, only to die on a screened porch in North Carolina.

Since I thought he was dead, I scooped him up to carry him outside. But somehow he didn’t feel dead in my hand. He moved slightly, and began to give out occasional faint cheeps. He was still alive! But he was limp, and his feathers were tattered from thrashing against the screen. I also knew he was dying because during summer hummingbirds only store enough energy to survive overnight, and this one had likely been in the porch for much longer, wearing himself out futilely trying to escape.

I thought he might have a chance to survive if I set him on a feeder. So I brought him upstairs and tried to position him with his claws gripping a perch and his beak inserted into the plastic flower. So all he had to do was extend his tongue to feed. It wasn’t easy getting him positioned because he weighed almost nothing and was so tiny. I dropped him several times, and as he hit the floor, I hoped I hadn’t injured him further.

I finally maneuvered him into a stable position and left him to go inside and get the camera. But when I looked through the window, I saw that he had somehow dislodged himself and was hanging upside down from the perch, clinging to it with a single claw. I repositioned him several times, only to see him work loose, but still hang on to the perch, literally for dear life. I had to do something else.

He needed to be in a position to feed without having to grip a perch. So I placed him on the porch railing and found a pink milk bottle top, filled it with nectar, and held it against his beak. Maybe the pink color would induce him to feed. Then, to give him more elevation, I placed him on a jar top so he could feed downward at a natural angle.

All the time, I was buzzed by the cloud of dozens of impatient hummingbirds who come to the feeders. One even swooped down to investigate the bottle top, hovering by my hand as I tried to get the little hummingbird to feed. Bees and wasps also buzzed me, but I held my ground. I realized my other hand was cramping because I was unconsciously gripping the porch post so hard.

The hummingbird still didn’t respond. His breathing was indiscernible, and only an occasional slight movement told me he was still alive. I persisted, keeping his beak in contact with the nectar. Then after fifteen minutes or so, he opened his beak slightly. He’d tasted the nectar! I waited, keeping his beak in the liquid. He began to open his beak more often.

Then I saw a subtle telltale movement in the nectar. He’d begun to flick out a tiny translucent tongue slimmer than a thread. Over the next minutes, his feeding grew more frequent, the tongue extending farther into the nectar. I could tell his breathing was growing stronger, because the iridescent green feathers on his back began to rapidly rise and fall. He moved his head slightly, another sign he was reviving. Since he was gaining strength, I took the chance to shoot a photo, holding the camera in one hand and the bottle cap in the other.

I continued to feed him, determined to stay until he either revived enough to test his wings, or finally died. I bent down to see whether his eyes were open, but they remained closed. Maybe he had been too far gone after all. The bottle cap needed more nectar, so I turned away to get the nectar jar.

And whoosh! He was gone! I caught only a glimpse of a feathered streak sailing away into the distance.

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E-book Guide Update: Keeping Up with a Bullet Train

2 02 2012

Even though I posted a guide to publishing e-books and e-articles only months ago, the field is moving so fast, it’s already time for an update. While e-books can be read on any platform, the heavy sales of tablets and e-readers is a major force driving the e-book rise. For example, a survey by the Pew Research Center found that over the holidays, the share of adults who own a tablet or e-reader nearly doubled, from 10 percent to 19 percent. As the price of those devices continues to drop, that percentage will almost certainly continue its rapid rise. And thus, so will e-book sales.  Amazon reported last May that their e-book sales had passed print books, and in December, Publishers Weekly reported that e-book sales rose 81.2 percent in October, even before the Christmas season and the debut of the new Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and Kindle e-readers.

What’s more, libraries are moving rapidly to offer e-book lending, according to OverDrive, a leading source of e-book services for libraries. Library lending is progressing despite attempts by with publishers to put up roadblocks, as reported in this New York Times article. Amazon was not one of those publishers, already launching its own lending library for Kindle e-books through OverDrive.

E-book vendors have reacted to this explosion of sales by offering new marketing schemes and e-book development software. For example, Amazon launched its new Kindle Select program, by which self-publishers could offer their books for lending. Depending on how many people borrow their books, they could be eligible for royalties from a Kindle fund. Some publishers have complained about Amazon’s demand for 90-day exclusivity for Kindle Select books. But others, including suspense author Cheryl Kay Tardif, report that making some titles available for free significantly sparked sales of other books.

In my September post, I wrote that the future might see more multimedia e-books.  That prediction was too timid. New design and formatting tools are making e-book layout more sophisticated and multimedia e-books significantly easier to produce.

For example, Kindle has launched its new Kindle Format 8 e-book format that includes tools for creating more visual-rich layouts. For almost all other e-readers, there is EPUB 3, the new version of the widely used e-book format. It allows for embedded audio and video files, besides enabling more elaborate layouts and navigation.

Also, to enable easier creation of multimedia e-books, Apple has launched its free iBooks Author, to enable multi-touch interactive e-books for the iPad. The system has gotten good reviews, such as this one from Wired.com. The catch is that, although books created using the software can be given away for free, any sales must be done through Apple’s iBookstore. Apple’s restrictive contract has generated considerable criticism among publishers and intellectual property lawyers.

Apple is not the only new player in e-books though. Self-publishers are developing their own software, including open-source software such as FLOW, described in this Wired.com post, for creating basic multimedia e-books.  Duke University scientists led by marine biologist David Johnston developed the system to publish their interactive marine science textbook, Catchalot (French for sperm whale). Importantly, they decided to develop the software when their book idea was turned down by publishers as being to expensive for a limited market. Although FLOW is currently Apple-specific, the scientists plan to develop a version for Android, and  to make FLOW widely available for inexpensive creation of other multimedia e-books.

The multimedia e-book arena has also seen the entry of new commercial ventures, such as Cathedral Rock Publishing and Inkling, which aim to simplify the creation process. Here are demos of a Cathedral Rock e-book and a more elaborate Inkling multimedia e-book

Finally, here are some excellent sources of information on e-book publishing. Smashwords founder Mark Coker has published The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success, which is free for download. And here’s a  a useful interview with e-book publishers on their experience. Also, the premier science communication conference ScienceOnline 2012 featured a session on e-books that included this extensive list of articles and sources about e-books.

Certainly, the e-book train has not only left the station, but is accelerating down the track. Stay tuned for reports on more milestones.





Should You Publish an E-book or E-article? Here’s a Guide

17 09 2011

With the explosive growth of the market for e-books and e-readers, writers find themselves considering whether they should publish an e-book or e-article. While e-books represent a potentially liberating and profitable outlet, they have their complexities and pitfalls. This guide aims to help you make the best decisions and navigate the rapidly shifting terrain of e-books. (Note: I recently added an update to this article.)

First the good news: e-books are very inexpensive to publish, often even free. They are distributed instantly worldwide and give buyers immediate gratification. There are also a multitude of outlets, including your own web site, Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes & Noble Pubit!, Apple iBookstore and Google eBooks. Such outlets also include independent sites such as Kobo and Smashwords, which not only offer sales from their sites, but distribution to major outlets such as Kindle. While Smashwords is a very popular distribution service, many authors prefer to publish separately to Kindle because of better royalty rates.

Importantly, none of these sites is exclusive, so you don’t have to pick one place to publish and sell. You can do it everywhere!

Another piece of good news is that e-book royalties are considerably higher than for print books produced by traditional publishers. For example, Kindle offers a royalty of 70 percent; and Smashwords offers a royalty of 85 percent for sales on its site, and 70.5 percent for sales on affiliates such as Apple and Barnes & Noble.

For other discussions of e-books, see Wikipedia’s comprehensive overview of e-books and their pros and cons and this article from The Science Fiction Writers of America.

Still a minor market

Now the bad news: Although sales of e-books are growing rapidly, they are still not a major percentage of the overall book market. That mass market still belongs largely to print books, although Amazon reports that its Kindle e-book Kindlesales now surpass all its print book sales. However, given that the cost of e-readers will continue to drop, most forecasters believe e-books will ultimately become the major publishing medium overall.

If you write nonfiction, there is the bad news that less than 20 percent of e-book sales are for nonfiction; but that’s good news for fiction writers, who garner about 80 percent of the e-book market.

E-books are also not yet part of the publishing mainstream. Don’t expect your e-book to be reviewed by The New York Times or any other major media outlet. Such lack of reviews is not necessarily terrible news, however, because fewer media outlets are reviewing books, anyway. Readers are relying far more heavily on reviews by fellow readers on Amazon and other sites. And you can solicit those reviews yourself, rather than submitting your book to the traditional media reviewers.

Perhaps the most cautionary news, however, is that the low cost of producing e-books has resulted in mountains of “e-dreck”—badly written and badly edited books that clog the marketplace and turn readers off.

So, before you make a decision to e-publish, you should develop a comprehensive, targeted marketing plan to determine how or whether you can distinguish your work from e-dreck. If that marketing plan really doesn’t reveal a significant market for your work, reconsider whether you should publish at all. Of course, if your e-book is a freebie to advertise your business, you wouldn’t expect to earn income from it, anyway.

Also, consider whether you should publish only an e-book, or make it an adjunct to a self-published print version. A very popular self-publishing model is to use Lightning Source to produce print-on-demand (POD) books, and to create e-book versions for the many outlets. For example, I used Lightning Lightning Source logoSource to print my booklet Working with Public Information Officers as a supplement to Explaining Research. I also posted the text of Working with Public Information Officers online.

While Lightning Source does offer an e-book publishing option, it does not distribute to the major outlets. Among the best sources of advice on POD are Aaron Shepard’s book POD for Profit and this article by book designer Pete Masterson on the business model for POD.

For a good overview of best practices for e-book production and sales, see this article from the independent publishing group SPAN and this Kindle e-book by James Matthews, How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks – All for Free. And for a view of the future, see book marketer Penny Sansevieri’s article The Next 10 Ebook Trends to Watch For.

Publishing e-articles

Besides publishing book-length manuscripts, you can also publish and sell e-articles. Major e-article outlets include Kindle Singles, Apple Quick Reads, and Smashwords Shorts. Kindle is perhaps the largest such e-article outlet. Helpful resources for publishing Kindle Singles include Larry Dignan’s review My Amazon Kindle Single publishing experiment, Megan Garber’s article 1,900 copies: How a top-selling Kindle Single is generating new audiences for ProPublica and the Kindle book How to Publish and Sell Your Article on the Kindle: 12 Tips for Short Documents.

Rather than publishing your article on one of the e-book sites, you might also consider e-article web sites. Popular e-article sites include The Atavist, Byliner, Longform.org, Scribd and the “e-reading community,” Wattpad.  Each of these Wattpad logohas a different publishing model: The Atavist charges readers for articles, Byliner links to articles from other sources, and Longform.org and Scribd offer free articles. Wattpad hosts free e-books and e-articles by untried authors, who can receive coaching and criticism from readers. Once an author feels his/her work is ready for commercial distribution, it can be published on Smashwords, a Wattpad partner.

Besides article publishing sites, there are also article syndicates that provide articles free to other web sites and blogs. Such syndicated articles are mainly how-to pieces aimed at promoting a web site, service or business. Syndication sites include Articlecity.com, Ezinearticles and Goarticles. John Kremer, author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books offers a listing of free article directories and online article sites. This site also includes fee-based services and software that claims to enable writers to produce and syndicate free articles.

Avoiding layout pitfalls

If you are seeking to create an e-book, the first challenge is figuring out the confusing welter of e-book formats. Each has its benefits and drawbacks, as outlined in this Wikipedia article and this listing on ePublication Marketing Associates. The safest bet is to produce your book in the formats preferred by the outlets you want to use—for example the .mobi format used by Kindle. Also, you can use such distributors such as Smashwords to convert your book into multiple formats that will serve a range of outlets.

Another complexity is that laying out any e-book is quite different from laying out a print book. Unlike a print layout, an e-book layout allows text to “flow,” according to the screen size. Also, readers can customize font size, font style and line spacing. So, page numbers are meaningless in e-books, and it is difficult—sometimes impossible—to control the placement of images, footnotes, endnotes, columns, tables, superscripts, subscripts, and other design elements. And given the low resolution of e-book screens, images will not be as crisp as in print.

If you do your own layout, some sites, offer authors substantial formatting help. These sources include the Kindle Direct Publishing site, the Amazon Smashwords logoKindle Publishing Guidelines, the Barnes & Noble ePub Formatting Guide and the Smashwords Style Guide. The software Jutoh has also received good reviews as an e-book formatter.

There are also many excellent books on formatting and publishing e-books, mainly for Kindle, which represents about 70 percent of the e-book market:

However, if your book has complex design elements such as images and tables, and if you’re not up to tackling a sometimes a technically difficult conversion process, you might find it wiser to pay an expert to format your book for you. Good sources for formatters are this Bookmarket list of e-book producers and distributors and this list from self-publishing guru Dan Poynter. To hire a Smashwords designer, you can obtain a list of authors who can format e-books and create e-book cover designs by emailing list@smashwords.com. Other e-book sites, such as AuthorLink, Bookbaby and eBookIt! offer formatting services as part of their fee-paid publishing package.

While Apple offers only minimal help in posting e-books to its iBookstore, it does offer a list of recommended “aggregators” that can provide layout and other services. A word of caution: while the list includes free aggregators such as Smashwords, and commercial services such as Ingram, it also includes the subsidy publisher Lulu. While Lulu offers a free e-book publishing service, such subsidy (aka “vanity”) publishers also promote paid publishing packages that are of doubtful value. See Masterson’s article on vanity publishers for a good summary of the drawbacks of such publishers. BookLocker is another subsidy publisher that offers conversion and distribution services for e-books.

Many e-book distribution sites, however, do not offer layout services, although they are still worthy outlets. These include eBooks.com , eBookMall, ePublication Marketing Associates, Fictionwise, and Scribd. Two other sites, Payloadz and E-junkie, sell all digital goods. Another, Overdrive, distributes e-books and other media to libraries, schools and universities.

The future of e-books may well extend beyond text to include sophisticated multimedia. Such enhancements may involve only adding a soundtrack to an e-book, a service offered by Booktrack. See this New York Times article on the uses for Booktrack. Or, multimedia may take the form of elaborate apps for the iPad and other tablet computers, as discussed in this New York Times article and in my blog post How the iPad is Inspiring New Publication Formats. Already, early pioneers such as Push Pop Press and Vook are creating extraordinary multimedia e-books. However, such multimedia apps are expensive and complicated to produce, and unless there is a mass market for an app, authors are perhaps wisest in sticking to simple, traditional text.





Nifty Web Sites Offer Online Communication Training

29 01 2011

The Web boasts a wealth of good sites for training in communication skills—from writing, to creating PowerPoint presentations, to making videos. And for most of them, the price is right: free!

Here are some of my favorite sites for online tips and training, and you can find links to many more communication-related Web sites in the references and resources section on the Explaining Research site.

Of course, online training can’t  place of an astute editor or a formal course, but they are an excellent way to introduce yourself to new skills and to brush up on existing ones.

Writing and editing

The World Federation of Science Journalists offers an online course in science journalism that gives a good grounding in the basics of the craft, World Federation of Science Journalists online courseincluding finding and judging science stories, interviewing, writing the story and reporting on controversies. And remarkably, the course is offered not only in English, but in Arabic, French, Portugese, Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese.

To train scientists to write more clearly, NIH has developed its Plain Language Training course. Although aimed primarily at NIH employees enrolled for credit, the site also allows outsiders to explore the course.

Also aimed at scientists is Bob Grant’s article in The Scientist, “Right Your Writing: How to Sharpen Your Writing and Make Your Manuscripts More Engaging.” It’s not a training course, but constitutes a good collections of savvy writing tips.

Explaining statistics in a meaningful way is one of the thorniest problems faced by scientists, journalists, and public information officers. Fortunately, the UN Economic Commission for Europe has produced an excellent set of  Making Data Meaningful guides. The guides, in English, Croatian, Spanish, and Japanese are

Public speaking

Although MIT researcher Patrick Winston’s series of “How to Speak” videos is aimed primarily at teachers, any public speaker will benefit from his wisdom. Here’s the intro video, which leads you through the series:

Also, the Wired How-To Wiki “Deliver the Perfect Presentation” is a handy introduction to good speaking practices. Follow its advice, and your talks will be immediately better. For more extensive speaking tips and techniques, explore the public speaking blogs

PowerPoint

Just about every speaker on science depends heavily on PowerPoint for visuals, and here are my favorite sites for learning both the basics and some of the program’s neat tricks:

You can find scads of other PowerPoint tips, templates, backgrounds, and videos in the Explaining Research references and resources for the chapter on giving talks.

Beyond PowerPoint, there are also new Web sites that offer presentation capabilities well worth exploring. For example the presentation program Prezi enables speakers to create large “pages” containing their presentation, which the presenter can maneuver around during the talk.

ZohoOther new sites enable not only production of shareable Web-based presentations, but also foster online collaboration. These include Zoho, 280Slides, Google Presentations, and Google Wave. The last enables groups to share pictures, slides, graphs, and other interactive elements in one long chatlike discussion thread.

Video

If you’re planning to create your own videos—or you just want to better understand what the pros you hire are doing—here are some good sites:

Finally, two other communication training sites well worth exploring are the Adobe tutorials on creating multimedia projects and Nikon’s MicroscopyU tutorials on creating dramatic microscopy images.





“Am I Making Myself Clear?” Absolutely!

12 10 2009

Cornelia Dean’s new book Am I Making Myself Clear?: a Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public does a great serviceamimakingmyselfclear to scientists, as well as journalists and the public. For one thing, it offers a concise guide for scientists to public communication from one of the country’s most distinguished science writer-editors. Dean brings to the book her extensive experience at arguably the world’s premier newspaper for science coverage, The New York Times.

Dean makes a compelling case for scientists’ involvement in public issues, declaring that “if they participated more in the public life of our nation, if they dropped their institutional reticence and let their voices be heard beyond realms of scholarly publication, they could … inject a lot of rationality into our public debates.”

Her chapters on the nature of the news business and the worsening state of science journalism not only help scientists understand what is an alien realm to most of them. Dean also offers a valuable inside look at the thinking process of a professional communicator wrestling with how to responsibly communicate hot-button scientific issues. For example, she writes how she developed a concise statement on the issue of evolution: “I eventually worked out the wording that allows me to sum up the situation, I believe accurately: there is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth. I use this language often when I write about evolution. But I am criticized for it. On some Web sites, creationists call it ‘Cornelia’s Creed.’”

The book also offers a wealth of insightful journalists’ tips on working with an editor, interviewing subjects, writing op eds, crafting letters to the editor, working with editorial boards, and writing accessibly about science. My favorite writing tip: “when writing in English, a language derived from German, strive to use words with German roots in preference to words with Latinate roots. Talk about cats not felines, or water that is safe to drink rather than potable. Don’t inhale and respond, take a breath and answer.” Also valuable is her perspective on how to effectively and responsibly work with public relations people to disseminate news of one’s research findings.

Her chapter covering the bumpy road from print to online journalism offers readers a cautionary road map charting the hazards, warning that

online journalism is developing standards that differ, sometimes wildly, from what some journalism scholars call “the discipline of verification,” a hallmark of the mainstream media. That discipline can give way to a “journalism of assertion” in which people post, often anonymously, erroneous, defamatory, vulgar, or mindless observations that would rarely, if ever, gain attention at a respectable news outlet.

And for those scientists contemplating writing a popular book, Dean offers the pithiest piece of advice I’ve ever encountered on the subject: “Don’t think about writing a book unless you really cannot help yourself.” If, indeed, you cannot help yourself, Dean’s guidance on navigating the publishing world and working with a collaborator are invaluable.

No scientist should consider plunging into the messy arenas of the courtroom or Congress—testifying as an expert in court, or before a congressional committee—without reading Dean’s chapters on those subjects. Her clear explanations of the pitfalls and techniques in such endeavors will no doubt rescue many scientists from missteps and make them far more effective.

It is fortunate that the publishers decided to make the book’s cover a distinctive orange, so that it will be easily locatable on the great many scientists’ bookshelves where it deserves to reside.





Disney Can Teach Lessons in Communicating Science

3 05 2009

You might think of Disney World as merely a vacation destination, with or without the requisite kids. But I’ve found that Disney really has much to teach researchers about communicating science and technology. And I don’t just mean tricks to hold the attention of squirmy school kids during a school science talk.

Disney World offers lessons about communication research that can make your seminars, Web content, and articles more engaging and thus effective. I really didn’t come to appreciate what Disney World can teach about explaining research until my latest trip. So, I dedicated the visit to exploring science communication Disney-style and how it offers take-home lessons that researchers might find useful.

Disney communicates science so effectively because its “imagineers” understand that just providing information is not enough. In creating Disney World, they understood that audiences need more than just information; they also need motivation to take in that information. And wherever possible, the imagineers offer audiences an involving experience that makes the information memorable. Researchers attempting to explain their research usually miss out on the benefits of motivation and experience because they neglect them in their communications.

For example, you likely see your departmental seminar as purely an informational event meant to convey as clearly as possible your latest experimental results. But because your audience comprises real people, reaching them most effectively also means motivating them and giving them an engaging experience.

To show what I’m talking about, here are examples from my Disney World visit, along with ideas on how you might apply them to make your research communications more effective. First, how Disney uses motivation:

As you might expect, Disney effectively motivates by injecting whimsy and humor into its science communication, especially using its cartoon characters, For example, in EPCOT’s The Land pavilion, for example, the “Circle of Life” movie uses characters from The Lion King to engagingly convey the need for environmental preservation. And in “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” pavilion, the entry ride superimposes cartoon characters over the real-life aquarium in the facility. (By the way, Disney offers useful Web pages giving an overview of its “Environmentality”  and Education programs.

In motivating visitors, Disney also knows how to take advantage of teachable moments to explain science. For example, bathrooms in the Animal Kingdom’s Conservation Station have “Whiz Quiz” plaques posted over the urinals and on the stall doors. The Whiz Quiz over the men’s room urinals asked “How much do elephants pee?” (20 gallons), and How far can rhinos and tapirs pee? (15 feet).

Waiting for Animal Kingdom’s Dino-Land Dinosaur thrill ride, visitors hear a concise explanation of the meteorite impact believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. The ride itself is introduced by scientists including a black woman. And during the ride, the narrator calls out the species names of the animatronic dinosaurs as they menace the riders. The Dino-Institute also displays the science-friendly slogan “Exploration, Excavation, Exultation.” (Unfortunately, there was a mildly anti-science sign in the Dino-Land Chester & Hester’s Dino-Rama carnival rides. The sign showed a cartoon dinosaur ejecting a white-coated scientist, with the caption “Scientific? Nope. Terrific!”)

In Downtown Disney, the T-Rex Café offers another good example Disney’s grasp of the motivating teachable moment. Diners are surrounded by a collection of animatronic dinosaurs that periodically erupt with roars and movement, giving them a feel for what real dinosaurs must have been like. The cafe also offers the educational “Paleo-Zone,” which includes an archeological dig and educational video games.

Certainly, in your communications you can’t summon animatronic dinosaurs to create teachable moments. Nor would you probably want to post your research abstracts on bathroom stalls. But you can create other teachable moments to offer audiences information about your work. You could post articles or displays in the waiting rooms, hallways, and cafeterias of your building–and not just leftover posters from meetings, but displays tailored for important visitors, from students to donors.

You could add to your Web site a category of links to interesting background articles, FAQs, Q&As, videos, and other content. This material could come from your professional association or funding agency. The Explaining Research Web site has a list of such sources.

Also, consider creating a Facebook page or blog on which you record interesting news about your work, as covered in Explaining Research.

In looking for places to create teachable moments, think like Disney. Ask yourself what venues your audiences frequent, and what kind of information might be appropriate to for those venues? Now, on to examples of how Disney uses experience to communicate:

For many visitors to EPCOT, their first experience is the Spaceship Earth ride inside the giant geodesic dome. This “dark ride” takes visitors past animated tableaus depicting the history of communication – for example an animatronic man pounding papyrus into a flat sheet and printers using the first printing press. However, the most involving experience, comes near the end of the ride. Visitors see on the computer screen in their ride pod an image of their face inserted into a scenario of life in the future. When the ride ends, they then emerge into an “interactive playground,” in which, for example, they can assemble a human body in 3D.

The Animal Kingdom also includes a multitude of science-related experiences. Besides such rides as the Kilamanjaro Safari through the park, visitors walking the pathways might encounter an explainer carrying an animal–we saw a caged spider–who can answer questions about its biology and behavior.

Visitors can also see how the park’s animals are cared for. They can peer through a window into the veterinary center in The Animal Kingdom’s Conservation Station in the Rafiki Planet Watch to watch animals get checkups and medical procedures.

Disney also makes its experiences multisensory, for example effectively using sound. “The Song of the Rainforest” comprises a set of dimly lit booths in which visitors don headphones to hear ultra-realistic rainforest sounds of animals, insects, chainsaws, and falling trees. The Planet Watch also offers information on projects visitors can do to create their own backyard animal habitats.

While you can’t bring such elaborate experiences to your audiences, you can come surprisingly close. When you give a seminar or talk, bring along an organism, mineral sample, instrument, or other object your audience can see, or even handle. If your work involves an interesting sound, include it in your presentation. Perform an engaging demonstration; or if there is some relevant, experiment your audience can do on their own, offer a handout or Web URL describing the experiment. Show a video of an experimental procedure. Even if that procedure is relatively mundane, the show-and-tell will make your talk more memorable. Direct your audience to an interesting place in the area where they can encounter an aspect of your work, for example a rock outcropping in a park or a museum exhibit. Ask for a volunteer from the audience, and use them in a demonstration, preferably a non-destructive one.

Also, think about ways to make your laboratory building experiential. You might install display cases with examples of your work. Or, if there is a public window into your laboratory, you might post information on the instruments and procedures that take place there. This assumes that your lab techs don’t mind having people peering at them.

It has always surprised and disappointed me how bereft laboratory buildings are of information and exhibits on the work going on there. This educational sterility has its consequences in making for an unfriendly atmosphere for audiences who might be interested in the work. Creating a version of a motivational, experiential “Disney World” in your laboratory has definite value in advancing your work. You never know when it might attract a passing student, colleague, administrator, or donor to become involved in your research.

In stressing Disney World’s use of motivation and experience, I don’t mean to imply that it fails to provide information. For most visitors, that information is packaged as modest nuggets embedded craftily in the fun experience. However, for those who want in-depth information, Disney does offer more extensive encounters. For example, most visitors in the Land pavilion are content with the short boat ride through the greenhouses, sliding quickly past displays of farming techniques such as aquaculture, hydroponics, and aeroponics. But visitors who want more can take the in-depth Behind the Seeds tour to learn about those techniques in more detail.

We took the Behind the Seeds tour, and besides learning more about the farming methods used, our enthusiastic, articulate agronomist guide showed us techniques of integrated pest management and tissue culture. We also tasted hydroponically grown cucumbers, and smelled samples of coffee, vanilla, pepper, and other crops grown in the giant greenhouses.

Disney certainly has far more resources than you do at their disposal to motivate visitors and give them memorable experiences. But with even a modest effort, you can make your talks, Web sites, articles, and videos more than just a Mickey Mouse production.