The demand for electrical energy is high but the sun has already set. How do we harness energy from solar panels to meet that demand?  Three methods for storing that energy are explained in a new exhibit at the UM Museum of Natural History:  pumped storage hydropower, batteries, and water splitting.  Designed by Associate Professor of Chemistry Charles McCrory and his research group working with museum staff, the interactive exhibit explains each of these three methods, their benefits, and their drawbacks.

The exhibit is located in the “People and the Planet” gallery on the lower floor of the Museum and was funded by McCrory's NSF CAREER Award. It also displays the work that the McCrory group is doing in developing new materials that are more abundant, environmentally sustainable, and efficient for driving water splitting and other chemical reactions for energy storage.

 Learning to tell the story of research

The exhibit is a tangible demonstration of McCrory's commitment to communicating science to the public outside of the field of chemistry.  He makes it a core part of his students' growth as scientists. McCrory explained that, because so much of science is funded publicly, the public must understand how science works and scientists must demonstrate how their research serves everyone.

To facilitate this engagement, McCrory teaches his students the “narrative first” approach to communicating science. In this approach, students focus not just on what an experiment or result says, but more importantly why it is important and relevant. McCrory says this justification is crucial for all research communication, but especially important when communicating with non-scientists to help them understand what is happening in the science research world. The commitment to “narrative first” is clear from the exhibit which begins with a justification for storing solar energy and highlights the big picture pros and cons of each storage solution.

McCrory and his group members say that the benefits of working on this exhibit go beyond just engaging the public. McCrory lab members themselves learned how to effectively communicate science through the process of creating this exhibit and the UMMNH Science Communication Fellows Program.

McCrory lab alum Taylor Soucy can now customize her science explanations for different levels on the fly. “You might be explaining the exhibit to a 7-year old one minute, and then to their parents standing right beside the next minute,” Taylor said, describing her experience in the Science Communication Fellows program. According to McCrory, this ability to customize explanations has helped many of his students in the industrial chemistry world as they work simultaneously with business professionals and fellow scientists.

Ultimately, McCrory hopes that this exhibit increases public understanding of energy science and promotes the “narrative first” approach to communicating science for his students.

UM Science Communication Opportunities

At the University of Michigan, many different programs allow graduate students to engage the public and learn “narrative first” presentation skills including DNA day, RELATE, and the UMMNH Science Communication Fellows program. For chemistry graduate students, you can also be part of the Chemistry Department’s own Science Communication Fellows program.

Check out links to all these programs below and check out the McCrory groups exhibit at the UMMNH today!

The Natural History Museum's Science Communication Fellows program is open to all graduate students, post docs, and faculty at University of Michigan.

RELATE is open to graduate students at University of Michigan.

Michigan DNA Day is an annual event that brings scientists into high school and middle school classrooms to teach lessons on genetics and biotechnology

Chemistry PhD students interested in the Chemistry SciComm Fellows Writing Program should contact Professor Anne McNeil (Chemistry) or Dr. Ryan McCarty (English).