As I see it, there are three main options for the storyline:
- Solving a real scientific mystery, one which has already been solved (lots of good examples here. This would have the advantage of having solid science communication content. This idea would teach the user about the area of science, as well as about the scientific method in that particular field.
The story that immediately springs to mind is the <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_neutrino_problem”solar neutrino problem. This came from an experiment to measure how many neutrinos (a special type of particle, smaller than an atom) were being created from by the Sun. The experiment showed that the Sun appeared to be producing only a third of the expected amount of neutrinos. The reason this would work well for this type of story is that scientists had lots of candidates for what had gone wrong: either the experiment was wrong, or we don’t understand something about the Sun, about nuclear physics, or about neutrinos. There are lots of dead ends, which makes it a good candidate. Also, I have done a lot of research on the topic for other reasons, so this would be (comparatively) easy to write.
The big con for this idea is that it can never be truly interactive. Because it is a story which actually happened, the user cannot truly influence the outcome, which could defeat the point of the project. Also, neutrino physics, and the eventual solution of the problem, is out of the realm of even some undergraduate courses, so the subject may be too advanced for the audience.
- Solving a fake scientific mystery. The obvious candidate for this is a forensic crime scene investigation – so you have to ‘spot’ clues, and interview witnesses. This would be more difficult for me, as it wouldn’t be using the science I know, but I have a colleague at the University of Kent, which has an on-site forensics lab: perhaps I could do some filming there. The science behind each test can be explained, and this might help dispel some of the myths about CSI!
My worry with this one is that it may need lots of animation to make it do-able, which could get very time consuming. Writing a multi-storyline website is quite a big challenge as it is, and if I want to try and include some multimedia, then animations could just make the project an impossible task. I also worry that this may have been done before.
- Solving some kind of mystery where you have to do science/maths puzzles to unlock clues. Here, the story wouldn’t be the main way to communicate the science, so I’m worried that the science content wouldn’t come across, but I do like this idea as a way to get some dialogue going – there could be an accompanying discussion forum, where people could talk about the puzzles.
I think the final product will be a combination of these ideas, drawing from each. I like bits of all of them, but none of them quite work at the moment. I’ll do some more research (again), and see if there’s anything similar out there to draw inspiration from…