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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 43 - November 2004   
 Goodbye, Mr Busquin
 Reducing congestion on the inflammation highways
 Childhood diets
 Strengthening European research
 Neighbourhood science 
 A growing concern
 Capturing distant worlds on film

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School and television… in days gone by © Science and Society Picture Library
School and television… in days gone by
© Science and Society Picture Library
Science and society. Science and culture.
The new Ingenious site presents, in an intelligent and imaginative way, the complicity between these worlds and the often little apparent and little known links that have long existed between them. The key aim is to instil a desire to know more: “We invite you on a voyage of discovery through the content, exploring new perspectives on human ingenuity. The rich resources offer authoritative re-interpretations that challenge traditional views. You can contribute to these discussions by offering fresh opinions on the issues that have changed our lives, thereby creating dialogues within communities and with the museums.”  

The proposed voyage covers some 30 fields, including the birth of humanity, the phenomenon of migration, links between science and science fiction, the beauty of maths, the power of science and technology over our lives and our ways of thinking, and the notion of voyage and exploration. The dynamism and clarity of the virtual presentation is an invitation to ‘total immersion’ by navigating a path through various fields: "read", "debate", "see", "create". This remarkable website is the work of experts with solid experience behind them, acting on an initiative stemming from co-operation between five major British museums (Science Museum; National Museum of Photography, Film & Television; National Railway Museum; Science & Society Picture Library; Science Museum Library). They all brought their ‘specific touch’ to the project in terms of knowledge, educational experiences and communication, as well as their iconographic resources. Some 30 000 original images (archives, cinema, scientific documents) alone make the site well worth a visit. These illustrate brief explanatory texts that, although easy to read, never fall victim to the simplistic. A ‘step-by-step’ approach is possible for those who want to delve deeper. All these documents are waiting to be discovered on a virtual site that is as effective as it is attractive.  

Rediscovering our dark nights

Rediscovering our dark nights
Light pollution is causing some sleepless nights, in more ways than one. The electric lighting in our cities and along our highways is creating despair among astronomers, and in recent years the issue has been taken very seriously indeed. The first initiative was in the United States where the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) was set up in 1988. The IDA lists among its members some very determined Europeans, such as the Czech Jenik Hollan (professor of physics and astronomy at the Brno observatory) who is one of the driving forces behind pioneering legislation – the first at national level. In the Czech Republic, light pollution is regulated in the same way as the emission of chemical pollutants – Prague street lamps now have to cast their beams down to the ground. 

"We estimate that between 30% and 50% of the light emitted by external lighting is totally lost as it shines up into the sky,” explains Philippe Demoulin. This astrophysicist at Liège University knows what he is talking about as Belgium is the European country familiar to astronauts for having the most ‘phosphorescent’ roads and motorways in the world. He also advocates the use of low-pressure sodium lamps that are more economical and less polluting but still able to produce a good light.

In Lombardy (FR), a petition bearing over 25 000 signatures won approval for a measure similar to the Czech initiative. In the United Kingdom, the CfDS (Campaign for Dark Skies) has been trying since 1989 to establish dialogue with local and national authorities as well as with industry to secure measures to promote darkness, while the courts regularly hear cases of inhabitants complaining of excessive light.

So, it is not only astronomers who are bothered by this light pollution. It can disrupt sleep, pose problems to pedestrians and motorists by limiting their ability subsequently to adapt to the dark, and also upset the circadian rhythm of animals. To find out more – and perhaps to make your voice heard – check out the IDA’s international site for details of the various national movements, such as CieloBuio in Italy or CelFosc in Spain.

WYP 2005, and long live Einstein

WYP 2005, and long live Einstein
Unesco is promoting 2005 as ‘World Year of Physics’ (WYP). This is in homage to Einstein who, 100 years ago, discovered the theory of relativity, the first key step in rethinking our whole understanding of space, time and the Universe. The champagne will be flowing on 13 January in Paris, in the presence of many Nobel prizewinners and other leading figures from the world of science and industry – plus 500 young people carefully chosen from all over the world as budding scientists. Events will include two round tables on the role of physics in the 21st century, and public perceptions of science.

Young people will be very actively involved in the numerous events that will mark this WYP. The EuroPhysics Fun project, for example, will bring to many new countries the activities of the Danish Physics Show created by Aarhus University (DK). The idea originated during the Danish Science Festival in 1998 when physics students played host to primary schoolchildren. Using practical demonstrations, they presented science as a magical subject that anyone can understand. It was such a success that the university decided to support the initiative financially – two students were assigned to it and the idea was expanded to include secondary school pupils.

Today, the Physics Show is a mini-enterprise employing 20 students from the university’s Department of Physics to put on events regularly in schools, museums, cultural centres, etc. The Aarhus group attributes its success to a combination of elements: the way its educational approach is continually reappraised, the youth of the ‘teachers’, the presence of girl students to counter the popular image of science as a male subject, the focus on experimentation and links between physics and day-to-day life, and a presentation that always includes the fun aspect. In 2001, the Aarhus students ‘played’ to 5 000 people. Thanks to the WYP, they hope to double that number in 2005 by disseminating their initiative throughout Europe. 

Science teachers – webstop 

First click on an age group (3- 7, 7-11, 11-14, 14-19 yrs). Then choose a subject (earth sciences, biology, science museums, laboratory equipment, parent-school relationships, distance learning). You can now click and discover a list of works, organisations, contacts, good teaching ideas, exhibitions to visit, etc., along with details of where to obtain documents, and put your questions to experts by e-mail. As the Scienceonestop organisers suggest, the intermediary between a science teacher and the quality of his teaching… is a mouse. 

Students – what to choose? 

To increase awareness of the reality of science, the Scientist@work project, launched in Belgium by the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (VIB), has had the good idea of bringing together pupils (aged 14-18), their teachers and scientists. The scientists are opening the doors to the reality of science, welcoming pupils into real laboratories to carry out real experiments. The students then report their impressions in the form of a written document and poster that can be entered for an inter-school competition. The second of these competitions has already received 77 entries, with contributions from 845 pupils. 

DVD - Newton in Space

Pedro Duque juggling in space. © ESA
Pedro Duque juggling in space.
Lessons in Newton’s laws have been filmed on-board the International Space Station, as well as on Earth. In space, the astronauts Pedro Duque (Spain) and Alexandre Kaleri (Russia) carried out experiments similar to those done by German, Spanish and Irish secondary school pupils ’on the ground’. The results were recorded and are now available on an educational DVD, Newton in Space, produced by the ESA. “We learned about science without really knowing we were doing it,” was the view of Stephen Rigney, from Ireland. In a sense, that is what the developers of this educational kit had in mind. Available in 12 languages, it includes a DVD, teacher’s manual, documentation on the International Space Station, details of multidisciplinary activities, and web references. 

Never too soon…

German schoolchildren are to be introduced to the concept of sustainable development as early as the kindergarten. Educational kits, known as the Agenda-21 Boxen, and including books, CDs, videos and games, are to be distributed in schools. Different kits will be available for different levels and in each case sustainable development will be studied by focusing on very concrete elements, such as buildings, textiles, food, and mobility. “This is an in-depth educational concept. It not only deals with the environment but also seeks to highlight the cultural dimension and the social structures involved in sustainability,” stresses Alexander Leicht, head of the German Commission for Unesco, the initiator of the project.