tour de science

Tour de Science – a science story-telling show

By David Famularo

Thought you might be interested in this” said the note from a friend on a Tour De Science postcard she had posted to me. That wasn’t the only old fashioned thing about the show which featured David  Klein and his “Big Dummy” cargo bike on which he had been cycling around New Zealand, performing in 60 locations over summer.

Now his early thirties, Klein had gone through a stage familiar to many New Zealanders when in his twenties – what am I supposed to be doing with my career/life? A science nerd from an early age, it seemed inevitable Klein would become a scientist.

But he dropped out of university after 18 months and started packing boxes in a factory. Klein isn’t the first academically oriented person to have done this, Arthur Miller, for instance, worked in Brooklyn Navy Yard while writing his early plays.

Klein soon realised basic labouring work was not his future either and returned to university. Receiving his graduation certificate through the post (due to the cancellation of a graduation ceremony because of the Christchurch earthquakes) only brought up the same ennui as before.

Klein loved learning but didn’t love boxes – either packing them or being in one. For the past six months, perhaps temporarily, he has stepped out of a box with Tour de Science, a one man, one hour show in which Klein attempts to share the awe he feels for life and the universe through science.

Can a man and a bike performing for a live audience achieve anything that the Internet can’t? The answer to that is no and yes.

Nothing Klein explains to his audience is not available online but I came away with a better grasp of evolution and DNA than before. Although it wasn’t a part of his talk, I also had a glimpse of an understanding of the theory of relativity.

When Klein was talking about the distance between the earth and other objects to give some sense of the enormity of our universe, he was talking about it in terms of the number of years it takes for light to travel that distance (light years), using a measurement of time that only makes sense when you live on the planet Earth and which would make no sense in another part of the universe – hence the relativity (well, my skewed version of it anyway)

I had a friend drop by this morning who said how he had found a book he had gotten out of the library was too dense to read. I said this was possibly the fault of the author packing too many ideas into every sentence, paragraph and chapter.

Most people can only grasp a small number of big ideas at one time – well that’s the case for me. And here in lies the brilliance of Tour De Science. It doesn’t overload the audience with information, and it explains ideas in a simple logical flow, with amusing props to underline concepts.

Klein also understands that knowledge is a form of sharing, storytelling and entertainment. When he wore a large silver disc of the moon, Klein reminded me of Flavor Flav, hype man for rap group Public Enemy wearing a giant clock while on stage.

A “hype man” contributes to a performance of a band by using themselves as a prop, much like Klein used his body and his life story to encourage a love of learning.