Effective public science communication is key to making the European Research Area more competitive, particularly as it grapples with the public debate surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMOs), biodiversity, cloning, and ethics. Young biotechnology researchers and students are important constituents for building a better future European science effort. Although significant attention is focused on educating these young people, they often play a passive role in the communication process.
The EU wants to tap the potential and enthusiasm of young people studying life sciences or already working in the field. With seven participants from five countries, the Specific Support Action BIOPOP studied the impact of science communication with young scientists on the front line, organising popular open-lab style events in two European cities.
THE POWER OF YOUTH
The 24-month BIOPOP project took advantage of a major energy resource for life science communication: drawing on associations of young scientists and students from several European countries (Italy, the Netherlands, France, Germany and Poland). The Italian-led project started by studying similar past efforts, for example, the 'Biotech-bus' in Germany, the 'DNA Train' in France and the 'Science Festival' initiatives in Poland and Italy. In particular, the project studied how scientists and communicators at these popular events used interactive approaches to address scientific issues. BIOPOP drew on the expertise of leading science organisations, such as the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and the European Federation of Biotechnology (EFB). The EFB Task Group on Public Perception helped organise an intensive training workshop for the young people who will lead BIOPOP's local events, focusing on twoway communication techniques.
The project organised popular events in the main squares of Bologna (IT) and of Delft (NL). In specially was designed tents, the events created the atmosphere of a 'science agora', where the laboratory was open to the public to participate in and comment on. There were music, games, and animation, and 'genetic toys' for young children. Participants discussed and made their proposals on issues such as food safety, GMOs and bioethics in a two-way communication model, designed not to teach but to collect feedback and stimulate participatory approaches. The project worked closely with the media to ensure an exchange of views and experiences with the young scientists and improve both reciprocal understanding and dialogue with the public.
The project set up a website featuring a virtual city square to promote further public participation in science. The website also published reports and analyses about the popular events, in particular about the impact of the participatory approach.
BIOPOP contributed to promoting a new model for public communication in which students and young scientists, not faceless institutions, answer the public's questions about science and listen to their concerns. It helped establish a platform for national and international institutions to share documentation and experiences. An important goal was to establish better contacts between young people in science and the media, in order to improve communication, interaction and public participation.
List of Partners
- Association of Italian Biotechnologists, University of Bologna (Italy)
- AETHIA Power Computing Solutions (Italy)
- Observa Science and Society (Italy)
- Biotechnologische Studentinitiative (Germany)
- Technical University of Lodz - Student Association 'Ferment' (Poland)
- Genomic Network of Young Scientists (The Netherlands)
- Amicale des Elèves Ingénieurs de l'Ecole Supérieure de Biotechnologie de Strasbourg (France)
- Full title:
- Pilot study on innovative approaches to public communication of life sciences and biotechnology by students and young researchers
- Contract n°:
- Project co-ordinator:
- Francesco Lescai,
Association of Italian Biotechnologists, University of Bologna
- EC Scientific Officer:
- Elisabetta Balzi,
- EU contribution:
- € 354,500
- Specific Support Action