For many scientists, it can be challenging to make their research relatable to the general public. I came across the “Up-Goer Five” challenge while at a scientific communication workshop a few years ago. I had never heard of it before, but I found the idea intriguing. The point is to try to explain your research using only the ten hundred (because “thousand” is not allowed) most commonly used words in the English language. The exercise forces scientists to rethink their research and cut out as much jargon as possible while still getting the major points across. The name “Up-Goer Five” comes from a fantastic comic that explains aspects of the Saturn V rocket (or “the only flying space car that’s taken anyone to another world”) using this strict vocabulary limit. Scientific American did a great blog post about the challenge and gives links to websites where you can share your own Up-Goer Five -themed research explanation. The text editor website that highlights any restricted words can be found here. I showcased my own Up-Goer Five explanation about my seal whisker research on the title slide of my thesis defense so that people could read it while they were settling in for my talk. It is listed below:
Some animals, but not humans, have cool sense hairs on their face. They use their sense hairs to feel things, search for food, and move around in the dark. I study how sense hairs work by looking at their parts up-close. Sense hairs are different than normal body hairs because they are full of blood. In water animals, sense hairs have three blood parts. Small sense hairs are different from big sense hairs. The sense hairs of animals in the same family usually look the same.
So, if you are a researcher, I strongly recommend taking the challenge. It is fun, and I think it is important to be able to communicate science in different ways. If you are not a scientist, you can also take the challenge and just try to explain other topics/items. I recently made an “Up-Goer Five” -themed movie quiz for anyone who wants to try. The link will also be permanently added to BST’s Just for Fun page. For anyone who is now totally obsessed with this Up-Goer Five idea, a book (Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words) was released in 2015 and is right up your alley! Have a great weekend!