The sky’s the limit: Antonia Forster

Science presenter and planetarium operator Antonia Forster on public speaking and the relationship between science, technology and art

People 29 Nov 2018

Antonia Forster

Antonia Forster

As a planetarium operator at We The Curious – an educational charity in Bristol – my role is to help develop our shows. I do the astronomical research behind them, write scripts – which includes the programming scripts and the spoken scripts for the presenters – and I’m also working on experimental new content at the border between virtual reality and planetaria.

My background is actually in zoology and animal behaviour. I completed an MSc and started a PhD; at that time I worked in research, but I realised that what I really loved was engaging with people about science, and communicating it, rather than necessarily doing the research. I ended up working in zoos as a presenter for animal-based talks, and then I joined We The Curious as a science presenter.

I also work freelance as a science presenter, doing things like science comedy nights and informational talks. Last year, I gave a TEDx talk for 2,000 people. I’ve always enjoyed being social as I’m quite extroverted, but it’s a very different thing to do public speaking. I think the most important thing is to customise your talk for your audience – think about why they are there and what they want to learn from listening to you. As a public speaker, you’re more a conduit for the information; it’s not really about you, it’s about what you’re trying to communicate.

My work leads to some exciting projects. We The Curious recently collaborated with LG on an experience for the launch of its new OLED TVs. LG wanted to use astronomy content to demonstrate the powerful visuals of its new monitors, which use True Black technology to create incredibly sharp images. They wanted to recreate the night sky as it would appear from London if there were no light pollution, so they approached the planetarium asking for some extremely high-resolution content. Using DigiStar software that allows us to simulate the sky from any location in the galaxy, at any date up to one million years past or future, our lead programmer Anna Henley captured images of the sky above that specific spot in London, on that specific launch night. The images were shown in a specially created room, featuring a ceiling of True Black monitors, and we were able to simulate exactly where all the stars would be. It was a spectacular scene.

I believe the more that different disciplines of science, technology and art come together, the more it will lead to new discoveries and new ways of using tools; which is always a good thing. We The Curious no longer brand ourselves exclusively as a science museum: we’ve become a place where art and science meet, and I find that very exciting because it’s been shown that people remember factual information better if it produces an emotive response in them. We use a lot of storytelling in the planetarium, for example, and the music is very emotive. For art and science to be divided is actually quite an artificial thing. Ever since the origins of science and philosophy, art has been a part of that. Maths, art and science are not individual, compartmentalised things. I see it as one big melting pot, so I feel very privileged to work somewhere with the sort of ethos where we’re able to embrace that.;;