Selfies have become a highly popularised trend these past few years on social media. Social interchange has evolved through three distinct phases: oral, text and now image-centred communication. Due to a shift in technology, photography has become less expensive and easily viewable. Selfies have been used in various fields, including science. Can selfies assist with communicating science?

Selfies gather interest, as faces help to engage us. According to researchers at Georgia Tech, 38 per cent of photos with faces were more likely to receive likes on Instagram. Scientist selfies can engage youngsters and positively impact how scientists are being perceived.

Social networks such as Instagram and Facebook could impact how science is viewed by various publics. With photo and video sharing, Instagram could engage young adults and teens in science through the power of visuals. Images of scientific research can help to gain interest and instil a sense of awe in that particular field of research.

There is not much information when it comes to analysing how selfies are faring in scientific contexts and the impacts of posts by scientists to engage different publics. While smiling faces in selfies appear to be more approachable to the viewers, the effect can be different for various people depending on who the scientist is. Gender and attractiveness elicit diverse responses that tend to reflect gender stereotypes. However, they could be used to prompt a different response.

This may discourage scientists from joining social media platforms. Attention needs to be given to ethical considerations when posting photos of animals and wildlife, as researcher Simone Cutajar states that pictures might give the impression that animals are not being handled as they should be.

Posting photos of scientists’ research might be more socially acceptable among their colleagues rather than selfies. A new project Scientist Selfies in the US is gathering responses about whether posting selfies humanises scientists, and whether it enhances perceptions of scientists’ warmth to gather public trust in science.

Researchers in Malta use photos rather than selfies to communicate science and reach different publics through visual aid. If selfies were to be used wisely and with caution, they could help to foster a better relationship between the researcher and other publics, by communicating more than just scientific research findings. The power of hashtags can also be used to tap into various interests. By using specific hashtags it would allow users with more scientific knowledge to find the researchers on Instagram.

Selfies can engage different citizens by evoking emotion in the researcher’s work and be able to comment and give feedback on the published image. Such images can also provide a deeper insight into the process of scientific research, providing a journey through selfies that give a unique twist to showcase scientific research.

Images, and more specifically selfies, have the potential to engage different publics with scientific research. It could also have the potential to show researchers in a different light that might impact attitudes, decisions and behaviours related to scientific findings and public concern.

Danielle Martine Farrugia is a science communicator at the Department of Physics at the University of Malta, project manager of Malta Café Scientifique and founder and host of Radio Mocha.

Sound bites

• Researchers completed a survey of 238 people from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where 77 per cent of the participants regularly took selfies. Reasons as to why people take selfies are varied, but it can be self-advertisement in the hopes of portraying positive characteristics to gain sympathy. Of this percentage, 62-67 per cent were in agreement on the potential negative consequences of selfies such as impacts on self-esteem. Taking the whole cohort of participants, 82 per cent indicated that they would rather see other types of photos rather than selfies on social media. A term coined by Diefenbach, the ‘selfie paradox’ is the idea that many people regularly take selfies, but most people do not appear to like them. The explanation might be that participants view their own selfies in comparison to other people. Participants regularly taking selfies compared their selfies to be more authentic than those taken by others, and this might explain why everybody takes selfies without feeling narcissistic.

• Researchers at the Institute of photonic sciences from the Attoscience and Ultrafast Optics Group in collaboration with researchers from the US, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany have reported the imaging of a molecular bond breakup. This was not possible until now. Researchers could only dream about observing how individual atoms of molecules rearrange during a chemical reaction to form a new substance or to see the compounds of DNA move, reorder and replicate. The researchers were also able to cause the breakup of only one of the bonds of the molecule and observe when one proton leaves the molecule. This method managed to accomplish the space and time resolution needed to take such images of molecular dynamics and researchers are eager to try it out on bio-relevant systems and chemical catalysts.

For more science news, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta 2 every Saturday at 11.05am.

Did you know?

• The door on an airplane cannot be opened mid-flight due to the pressure difference between the outside and inside.

• The colour of the egg yolk is dependent on the hen’s diet, the more yellow or orange grain is fed to the hen, the more vibrant the colour of the egg yolk.

• Bolitoglossa dofleini, the central American salamander, can extend its tongue to more than half its body length in seven milliseconds.

• The male platypus has the power to dispense a poison from its hind foot that could kill a medium-sized dog.

• Fusiform gyrus is an area in the brain that specialises in recognising faces. However, developmental problems or injuries in this area can leave people suffering from prosopagnosia, a disorder in which people struggle to recognise faces.

For more trivia see:

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