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  SCIENCE AND SOCIETY  -  Researchers take centre stage

Researchers have long since left their ivory towers. Yet while links between science and society are beginning to be recognised, the actual work of the scientist remains shrouded in mystery and viewed by many talented young people as offering difficult and poorly paid careers for the dedicated few. In order to shed the spotlight on research occupations, the European Union is launching the Researchers in European initiative. RTD info looks at this multi-faceted event that will run from June to September.

Opening a window on science? That has long been a policy of the prestigious Cern institution in Geneva. Pictured is a visit to its Microcosm.  © CERN/Laurent Guiraud
Opening a window on science? That has long been a policy of the prestigious Cern institution in Geneva. Pictured is a visit to its Microcosm.
© CERN/Laurent Guiraud
The calculation is a simple one. The now famous 3% objective (3% of Europe’s GDP allocated to research) implies an increase in the number of scientists of between 600 000 and 700 000 by 2010. It is an ambitious figure and to achieve it will mean capturing the interest of young people, dispelling their doubts, revealing the truth about a career that remains very vague in many people’s minds, and highlighting the role of science in the society which it serves. With this aim in mind, the ‘Researchers in Europe’ initiative has launched a Europe-wide appeal for all kinds of projects offering an ‘imaginative’ approach to providing the general public with a window on science.

In Ireland, for example, the Save the Robots festival will be held at Dublin’s Ark cultural centre for juniors, from 22 June to 30 September. More than 15 000 young people are expected to attend this fun event where they will be able to discover the history of some strange ‘creatures’ (from Egyptian automats to the most futuristic robots), attend seminars on the secrets of their creation (in the company of engineers, scientists and artists), explore the intricacies of artificial intelligence – and prepare their visits in advance with their teachers with the aid of teaching kits. But why robots? Because children like them, because we can learn a lot from them, and because they are developing a certain individuality or even sensitivity that is extremely interesting, explain the organisers. This latter and no doubt surprising aspect will be highlighted in particular by artists working in this field, such as Chico MacMurtie, Marc Pauline and Natalie Jeremijenko.

Further east in Poland, the ninth Festival of Science will be held in Warsaw from 16 to 25 September. In 2004, this popular event drew 60 000 mainly young visitors, attracted by the films, debates, laboratory visits and the chance to meet researchers ‘in the flesh’. Subjects on the agenda for the 2005 event include ‘Science is not complicated’, ‘Science and daily life’, and ‘Making medicines’. In this year of physics, the organisers are also planning to give prominence to physics, while not forgetting the human sciences with a debate on aggression and violence in which members of the public will be invited to participate alongside scientists from various disciplines. 

Also worthy of mention are the ‘Cabinets of curiosity’, organised by three Irish institutions (University College Dublin, Department of the Environment information service, and the Museum of Ireland) with the aim of stimulating interest in Europe’s natural history museums, the Scius (Science Circus) project that will focus on present and future women researchers, and the various events being held over a period of several months in Iceland, organised by the Icelandic Centre for Research (Rannis). 

These are just a few examples of events under the Researchers in Europe initiative, to be launched on 8 June under the Luxembourg presidency at the Luxembourg Museum of Natural History. One of the highlights on this occasion will be the research night on 23 September, during which a variety of events will be held in a number of European towns with the help of universities, science museums, planetariums, research centres and others. The event will close under the patronage of the Irish authorities during Marie Curie Week, to be held in Dublin in November.  


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