A bridge between young people and science

Snapshots of the seventh annual Expo-Sciences Europe, held in Budapest in July 2008. © Courtesy Milset
Snapshots of the seventh annual Expo-Sciences Europe, held in Budapest in July 2008. © Courtesy Milset
© Courtesy Milset
© Courtesy Milset
© Courtesy Milset
© Courtesy Milset
© Courtesy Milset
© Courtesy Milset
Courtesy Milset
Courtesy Milset

The aim of Expo-Sciences Europe (ESE)is to develop a scientific culture amongst youngpeople. The event, which is resolutely apolitical and free from any financial interest, brings together youngpeople from around the world with an interest in science and technology.Here is our report.

The city of Budapest is a beacon of knowledge. During the Renaissance, it saw the construction of Bibliotheca Corviniana, the shelves of which hold a rich collection of some 4 500 works that rival those of the Vatican. It will also soon be home to the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), a future centre of excellence for European education and innovation.

It proved to be an ideal venue for the 2008 edition of Expo-Sciences Europe (ESE 2008(1)), held in Budapest, Hungary, from 13-20 July, attracting about 400 young people and involving some 200 science-related projects.

From the Stirling engine...

Jérémy and Ludovic come from Nantes in France. Their stand focused on the Stirling engine, a venerable principle dating back two centuries that could have excellent future prospects if combined with a renewable energy source. "The prototype was created by our teacher in 2004," says Jérémy. "Our group improved the autonomy of the system with a closed water heating and cooling circuit made up of three Peltier modules." After four years of refinement, the team carried off the first prize at their regional Expo-Sciences, which explains their attendance at Budapest. "We are members of the science club at our school, so obviously we like physics and maths," Ludovic explains. Looking for a budding genius? How about this? "Our project is polynomial irreducibility.

It has no practical application; we developed it only because we love mathematics, our favourite subject at school," explains a Bulgarian boy, Momchil, from Sofia. "We started work on it 18 months ago with our maths teacher, and then we carried on alone with our teacher's occasional support," Ivan, his classmate, proudly boasts.

For Slovenians, Andraž and Matic, it was quite a different story. As astronomy buffs, they presented a range of tools built by their school astronomy club. "The stand displays all the instruments developed during the seven years of our astronomy course," explains Andraž. From an umbrella containing all the constellations to the solar observation projector, the devices were both ingenious and original.

...to AIDS

In contrast, Danish student Liane took a more activist line. She turned the spotlight on AIDS. "Young Danes are taking less and less interest in prevention campaigns. That is why I designed a CD-ROM from different sources, where young people can interactively learn more about AIDS. It has already been tested by adolescents and has yielded very good results." A few steps away we found Jana, from Slovakia. "My stand reviews the current state of knowledge on multiple sclerosis, an incurable disease that my aunt suffers from. My basic aim was to raise public awareness of the fact that the Slovak authorities only reimburse healthcare costs to patients under the age of 45. I also started petitions and wrote awareness-raising documents. Two months ago our government extended free healthcare to all sufferers."

Melting pot of Europe's youth

Eclecticism is the order of the day at Expo- Sciences. Not only do the young participants come from different countries and cultures, but their reasons for attending also vary widely. They are not necessarily all hooked on maths or chemistry, and each local Expo- Sciences selects a winner according to its own criteria. Naturally the event attracts science clubs and people following science courses, but it also pulls in associations whose main aim is far removed from Newtonian science.

There is no shortage of inventiveness. This was amply demonstrated by a local team from Forges, in the Vendée (FR), which brought to Budapest an interactive digital image: an ingenious touch screen system created using a projector, a computer and a Wii controller. "The system allows you to interact with a screen using a stylus that detects infrared.

It is all at very low cost since we created it ourselves.

To attract attention to our stand we offer passersby a virtual make-up session, but the screen can be used for many other applications," explains Mehdi. "The kids are rewarded not so much for their approach, but more for the quality of the presentation, the originality of the project, and the amount of personal investment," says the leader accompanying them. "For them the Expo represents an incredibly rich experience.

Taking on the task of presenting the idea, speaking in front of a group, using their own words and manning the stand is all extremely gratifying."

Between science and trade

Approaching others, discovering different cultures and communicating in a second language that they do not necessarily know very well are all new experiences for the participants, most of whom have never set foot in Hungary before. Many have never travelled outside their own country. "This is the first time I have ever left Greece. Budapest is impressive, the city is superb and the Expo has enabled us to explore many different places," raves Yannis.

With a visit to the Hungarian parliament, the Nuclear Particle and Physics Research Institute, a company specialising in information and technology, the Széchenyi thermal baths and even an excursion to a theme park, the exhibition goes far beyond its initial boundaries. "In the morning, the youngsters take part in scientific and cultural activities and play games. In the afternoon they man the stands and the evenings are devoted to social activities," says Antoine van Ruymbeke, a young charity worker who has spent all of his spare time for the past two years acting as the President for Europe of the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science (MILSET). It was more than 20 years ago that MILSET first gathered together the organisers of Expo-Sciences from around the world and managed the supranational forms of the event.

The exhibition originated in Quebec, Canada, but the movement quickly spread to the rest of the world. Asia, Latin America, Africa, Europe and North America - every continent now has a regional MILSET, each of which covers a multitude of national associations for promoting science and technology among youth. "The Expo-Sciences venture tends to start as a project initiated by a promoter, such as a science teacher. These projects range from constructing a model to creating a poster, as well as conducting proper scientific research," adds Antoine. "Once the project has taken shape, it can be presented at the various national exhibitions. The best stands are then invited to represent their country at either the regional or international Expo-Sciences. We alternate between the two every year." Since the event was held at regional level in 2008, as you will already have guessed, an international Expo-Sciences will take place in 2009. The chosen venue is Nabeul, a seaside town in Tunisia. It's time for young people to get to work!

Julie Van Rossom

  1. ESE 2008 was organised by MILSET Europe and the Hungarian association TIT Kossuth Klub.


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Youth and climate

The first climate workshops, organised as part of the Youth Climate Conference (YCC), were held alongside the European Expo-Sciences fair in Budapest. This initiative, supported by MILSET and Ungdommens Naturvidenskabelige Forening - UNF (DK), provides young people with a platform to express their points of view on global warming.

Why is there so much talk about the climate nowadays? Workshops, surveys and youth congresses, held between August 2008 and July 2009, will focus on this research issue, which was decided upon in Budapest. The results will be presented on a website and lead to a joint declaration to be issued in late 2009 in Copenhagen at the 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-15).


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