Today has been a pretty monumental day for science. At around 06.30 (BST) NASA had their own Higgs-like event: the Curiosity Rover was safely guided to the surface of the planet Mars, and the world celebrated with the scientists who got it there.
This isn’t just a special day for scientists, this is a special day for everyone. The realisation of getting, what in effect is a car-sized mobile laboratory to Mars is a tremendous achievement, something that a few decades ago was only thought possible in science fiction stories.
There was something else happening today too, something a bit more subtle. I realised today, the true power a communication platform like Twitter can have. Originally I thought Twitter to be a slightly odd concept, slightly stalker-ish, and very much a place where people can promote themselves. I still (mostly) hold this opinion, but I have come to realise that promoting yourself is not such a bad thing. Through Twitter alone I managed to get four job interviews this summer, purely from the companies that were tweeting their job advertisements, promoting themselves.
Twitter also allows users to hash-tag words, the more people that hash-tag a certain word, the more it turns into a trend. This is similar to a fashion trend: someone (usually a famous person) will start of wearing some new, unique item. Before you know it, everyone is wearing it; it is trending.
Today, #Mars and #Curiosity have been trending on Twitter. People from all over the world are following the activities of the Curiosity Rover on Mars. The same thing happened when the LHC announced it’s discovery of a Higgs-like particle. Tweets containing #Higgs and #LHC were the latest fashion on Twitter. Millions of people were talking about it.
All of a sudden, science is fashionable. The impact that something like Twitter has had in science is astounding. It allows us to celebrate and share humanities achievements in science almost instantaneously and on a global scale.
My (so far) favourite hash-tag appeared today: #tweetyrphd was amongst the most popular topics of conversation on my news feed. In 140 characters, people were asked to explain the thesis title/direction of their PhD. This can be particularly challenging as most PhD titles can be of significant length. It was one of the most interesting and fascinating reads I have had in a while. The sheer volume and diversity of science being done on its own is amazing. And through simple tweets like this, people could form new allies, make new connections, network, share their interests and work with the world. Suzi Gage and Michael Mosely have created a great Storify page of most of today’s PhD tweets, and it is still growing.
Although social media can sometimes cause more harm than good, in situations like this it is a wonderful thing. It showed just how curious humans can be, and it is curiosity like this that will take us to the next level in science, to Mars, and hopefully even further.