Città della Scienza

An homage to the informal

Director of the Città della Scienza ('City of Science’) in Naples and professor at the Faculty of Sociology at the Naples Federico II University, Luigi Amodio is a firm believer in a culture of interaction. It is an approach he supports through many educational initiatives at the Città, as well as citizens’ debates, such as the European Nanodialogue project that he initiated. research*eu spoke recently with Luigi.

As a centre for sciences, the Città complements “conventional” science education. What are the benefits of an institution such as yours?

As a centre for sciences, the Città complements “conventional” science education. What are the benefits of an institution such as yours? Science centres are an informal place where everyone feels free to express themselves and to make mistakes. They are places where everyone can come into contact not only with different types of people, but above all with different types of objects and scientific exhibits. They are interactive and fun places, and this makes them different to more formal places of learning, such as schools or universities. However, education in schools, and also the teaching resources provided by the media, are just as important. Each approach has its own context and results in different appropriations of knowledge. An ideal learning path should provide the scope to benefit from them all.

For a child, for example, a first visit to a science museum with a parent is a learning experience that can be very lively and a lot of fun. The child will not have the same kind of experience at school with his teacher, who transmits knowledge of a different kind.

Let us turn to the Nanodialogue European pilot project that you initiated. This project has just ended. What do you think it achieved?

The Nanodialogue project was based on themes such as ethics or the impact of nanotechnologies on society. We therefore sought to expose both the positive and potential negative aspects of applications in this field. Even if they are not experts on the subject, citizens must have their say and be free to decide what they want and don’t want in their everyday lives.

Such debates are very effective, not so much in convincing, but in providing food for thought. It is a question of knowing whether or not we are ready to embrace these new technologies. The first important lesson we can learn is that the general public does not fear the progress of these innovations. But knowledge does not necessarily mean acceptance. The final evaluation showed that a large majority of those who participated in the project may not necessarily be in favour of nanotechnologies, but they are in favour of research. That is in itself very positive.

What was your strategy for getting young people interested in the exhibition that underpinned the debates?

It is true that adolescents generally lack basic knowledge about “contemporary” science. So we had to find a way of explaining things to them that was simple, yet original. Sketching scenarios of the future is a very effective way of communicating with young people. Therefore, we tackled the subject of ethics by applying the science fiction model, a genre with which many young people are familiar. We also tried to explain how problems relating to nanotechnological materials can arise. Using such everyday items as cosmetic creams and rechargeable batteries, we clearly set out the difference between a “normal” product and a “nano” product. It was quite fascinating to see how young people – and the not so young too – reacted and interacted as they visited the exhibition, despite the fact that the concepts are far from simple.

You are also closely involved in the democratic dimension of the “science and society” debate. To what extent are young people engaged in this debate?

Young people have their own value system and that is why a question will not be put to them in the same way as it would be put to adults, and nor will the answer be identical. Yet, it remains essential to involve children and young people in any kind of scientific debate, as they are the citizens of the future. In this respect, cultural institutions and science centres have a fundamental role to play as they “accompany” young people and teach them how to develop a critical mind.