• Marjolein Vanoppen

SOCORRO at the bOing! Festival

At the last bOing! Festival (27-28th August), the SOCORRO project team presented a selection of the communication outputs. The bOing! Festival is a family friendly event that happens yearly on the grounds of the University of Kent campus (Canterbury, UK) during the August bank holiday, and brings cultural and science activities together to engage the local population.

During the bOing! Festival, the team at Kent set up two activities to engage the general public and different ages, one that was more suitable for small people (aged 7+) and another for young people and adults (13+).

The first activity (7+) consisted of a corrosion experiment that we had already developed in collaboration with SOCORRO partners from KULeuven for another public engagement activities at the Science Museum (see previous blog here). We put the public engagement skills learned at the Science Museum to good use again, along with displaying two dioramas and corroded plates with the SOCORRO project logo stencilled on (with special thanks to Cyril Nicard for making these fabulously corroded plates).

The second activity consisted of a 5-minute VR experience that we have developed as part of SOCORRO to communicate the science behind corrosion, where the person first gets immersed in a microscopic landscape and later in an underwater world. We set up the SOCORRO VR experience in two separate rooms, one where we only had the VR headset and another room where we had the VR headset along with smells of seaweed and corroded steel, and some haptic and sensorial elements such as shells and stones. The idea behind this two-room setup was that through a short exit questionnaire we could ask the public about their experience and find out if having smells within the room enhanced the immersive VR experience. We used different approaches when adding the smells into the experience: fans, jars and infused cotton, and as a human-computer-interaction experiment "in the wild" we were surprised about the level of engagement of the public with the questionnaire.

The most surprising thing for the team was that large groups of family members (sometimes up to 8 people) would sometimes enter the rooms at the same time, and some members would wait for their turn while their relatives were experiencing the VR, observing them move and how smell was added to their experience. Those waiting their turn could see their family members moving and turning, and even making funny faces or turning away from particular smells when these were brought close to their noses.

Our aim when we set up to develop the 5-minute SOCORRO VR experience was to find engaging and immersive ways to communicate the science and causes behind corrosion and the key environmental and economic issues associated with it. We felt it was important to bring memorable things into the experience, as for instance the addition of a large pink star fish, to help audiences digest with humour and awe the catastrophic consequences of unmonitored steel infrastructure.

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