Encouraging scientists to apply their knowledge to real-life situations in developing countries, and then getting high-school students to make it happen – that is the genial idea behind the ‘Imagine… school competition'. Created by the Dutch-based ‘Foundation Imagine… Life Sciences', this original concept was recently presented at the EU-hosted CER 2005 conference.
It is now widely recognised that there is a need to coax scientists out of the lab. There is also a pressing need to stimulate young people's interest in science in order to recruit the next generation of European scientists. The Imagine… school competition, launched in 2004, aims to address both of these requirements in one inventive – or, indeed, ‘imaginative' – package.
|Sonja and Chang, winners in 2004, teaching children to write in Mozambique|
© Foundation Imagine Life Sciences
Life scientists are invited to submit proposals for the application of a particularly useful and affordable technology in a less-developed country. High-school students (16-18 years old), working in groups of 2-5 students, are then asked to select a project and prepare a business plan for its implementation in a real-life situation.
Working together, the scientists and students carry out experiments and test the feasibility of the project before submitting their plan. The winning project is then actually carried out, with the participation of the students involved.
From dream to reality
In 2004, scientists Wouter van Winden and Bran van Beek put forward a proposal to produce biodiesel from algae grown in specially constructed algal ponds. High-school students, Sonja Boas and Chang Liu, chose this proposal, wrote a business plan and won the competition. Their ideas are now being put into practice in the small village of Elalane in Mozambique.
The students and the scientists all had the opportunity to visit the site of the project in the summer of 2005. In addition, one of the scientists will be moving to Mozambique in 2006 to help construct the algal pond. For the scientists, the competition was a great opportunity to work on something different.
In the words of Wouter van Winden: “It's inspiring to try to do something concrete for a developing country.” For the students, this was a unique opportunity to gain valuable experience and insight into the world of science in a very hands-on and practical way.
The ‘Foundation Imagine… Life Sciences' is supported by the Dutch government, but also by the business community, NGOs and universities.