Influencers and science communicators: three interviews

Three influential Italian scientists. From left to right: Saudino, Schettini and Bressanini. Image property of Il Tacco d’Italia

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Influencers and science communicators: three interviews

Written by Stefania De Cristofaro

Social channels for cultural content are going crazy in Italy. We interview three "web stars": Vincenzo Schettini, Matteo Saudino and Dario Bressanini..

Online science is becoming increasingly popular. In Italy, more and more users are posting video lectures on social networks, with explanations, experiments, definitions, mathematical formulae, and anecdotes that make students smile and arouse their curiosity.

And the most successful teachers have become real “influencers”, being interviewed on television, taking part in conferences and, in some cases, making real tours of Italian schools and theatres.

Especially among high school students, there is a boom of “likes” for teachers who have become science communicators, protagonists of a new way of doing culture, especially for STEM subjects (short for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

In the same way that fashion, sports or cooking experts can amass millions of followers, some of these enterprising teachers are also proselytising on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Spotify.

The “web star” of physics

Professor Vincenzo Schettini teaches physics at a high school in the province of Bari, but he is already a social media superstar with more than three million followers. He is also the star of a sold-out theatre tour and the author of the bestselling book “La Fisica che ci piace” (Physics we love), winner of the Elsa Morante 2023 prize.

The secret of his success?  “There are no secrets,” says Professor Schettini. “My videos simply show my personality and the feelings I have, not just a sterile idea”.

“In my videos you can see that I am having fun with the children, and when you are having fun, you also attract attention and curiosity,” he continues. – Those who watch one of my videos start to ask themselves: why are they laughing? And because those who are usually forced to study physics almost always cry, they often stay to listen to my lecture.

“Students, being very young, don’t always know their way around the Internet. The Internet has an incredible potential, but at the same time it can become a very dangerous place, that’s why it needs to be regulated. That’s why I think the Ministry of Education should issue special guidelines.

History: not just Barbero

Everyone in Italy knows Professor Alessandro Barbero, thanks to whom many have discovered (or rediscovered) their passion for medieval history. But, strangely enough, he is an unwitting influencer who does not have his own social media channels. The millions and millions of views of his lectures are uploaded by his students and fans.

Another well-known face of history popularisation is Matteo Saudino, a teacher at a high school in Turin, but known to the general public as BarbaSophia. He inherited his passion for history from his partisan grandfather and discovered the social channel at the suggestion of a student. “The teacher must first of all love his subject and pass on his passion to the students, he must have empathy and patience, because the paths of learning are long and tortuous,” says the teacher, who started teaching on Facebook. “The teacher must be able to show certain perspectives and thus be an educator. To do this, he must expose himself and also say how he thinks, give answers and food for thought: he must be a point of reference. He must leave a mark, both through the discipline he teaches and through his behaviour and passion,” says Saudino. “The main thing is that they give everyone the tools to train themselves: the thing to think about is that they are great toolboxes and containers. Everyone has more opportunities to take advantage of in terms of knowledge, understanding and training. Secondly, they can trigger fresher language and stimulate more engaging communication. It is also worth remembering that social media allows for the development of interdisciplinarity”.

Everyone crazy about chemistry

A self-described friendly neighbourhood chemist, Dario Bressanini, a professor at the University of Como, was one of the first to start a science blog in the early 2000s: “Science in the Kitchen”.

“There came a time when young people stopped watching television, or if you like, the traditional media no longer appealed to them, so there was and still is an unspoken demand for content. So the popularisers showed that there was an unspoken demand for this kind of scientific content,” says the professor, explaining the reasons for the success of the lessons on social networks. “Among my first followers were 14-year-olds who have since written to me to say that they have decided to continue their studies at university.  Some of them have even graduated in scientific subjects”.

“The contribution that popular science can make to education is remarkable: if it is done well, it awakens the curiosity of some students, which is sometimes a little put off by ministerial programmes that are, in my opinion, old-fashioned,” he argues. “Once you manage to arouse young people’s curiosity, science, chemistry or physics are no longer seen as abstract and boring subjects with formulae to be memorised, but as part of everyday reality. When this happens, young people become passionate. And when they are passionate, they see education differently.

And they learn with joy, interest, and motivation.

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Influencers and science communicators: three interviews

Written by Stefania De Cristofaro

Social channels for cultural content are going crazy in Italy. We interview three “web stars”: Vincenzo Schettini, Matteo Saudino and Dario Bressanini.

Online science is becoming increasingly popular. In Italy, more and more people are using video lessons on social networks such as Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Spotify, with explanations, experiments, definitions, mathematical formulae, and anecdotes that make students smile and arouse their curiosity, especially in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).

The “web star” of physics

Professor Vincenzo Schettini teaches physics at a high school in the province of Bari, but he is now a social media superstar with more than three million followers.

The secret of his success?  “There are no secrets,” says Professor Schettini. – “My videos simply show my personality and the feelings I have, not just a sterile idea.”

“Students, being very young, don’t always know their way around the web. The internet has an incredible potential, but at the same time it can become a very dangerous place, so it needs to be regulated. That’s why I think the Ministry of Education should issue special guidelines”.

History: not just Barbero

In Italy, everyone knows Professor Alessandro Barbero, thanks to whom many have discovered (or rediscovered) their passion for mediaeval history.

Another familiar face in the popularisation of history is Matteo Saudino, who teaches at a high school in Turin but is known to the general public as BarbaSophia.

The teacher, says Saudino, “must above all love his subject and transmit his passion to his students, he must have empathy and patience, because the paths of learning are long and tortuous. To do this, he must expose himself and also say how he thinks, give answers and food for thought: he must be a point of reference. He must leave his mark both in the discipline he teaches and, in his behaviour, and passion.”

Everyone crazy about chemistry

He defines himself as the friendly neighbourhood chemist, Dario Bressanini, professor at the University of Como: he was among the first to start a science blog in the early 2000s: “Science in the kitchen”.

“There came a time when young people stopped watching television, or if you like, the traditional media no longer addressed them, so there was and still is a demand for unspoken content. The popularisers, therefore, showed that there was an unspoken demand for this kind of scientific content,” says Bressanini.

“The contribution to education that science popularisation can make is remarkable: if done well, it stimulates the curiosity of some students, which is sometimes somewhat rejected by ministerial programmes that, in my opinion, are outdated,” he argues. “As soon as you manage to arouse the curiosity of young people, science, chemistry or physics are no longer seen as abstract and boring subjects with formulae that have to be learnt by heart but are grasped in their everyday reality and their multidisciplinary. If this is achieved, young people become passionate. And if they are passionate, they see teaching in a different way.”

And they learn with joy, interest, and motivation

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According to the three Italian teachers interviewed, what are the reasons for the success of the online lessons?
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