RTD info logoMagazine on European Research

rtdinfo
COMMUNICATING SCIENCE

Communicating communication

On 14 and 15 November, the 2 000 participants at the Communicating European Research (CER) conference were treated to a multifaceted communication experience. In addition to some 50 shows, presentations and debates with over 150 speakers, there was an exhibition with around 250 stands to explore. The photographs presented here give just a snapshot of this multiple communication event organised by the Research DG. For a more comprehensive view, check out the CER website where you will find the detailed programme of activities, a list of participants, the three issues of the conference journal The EXCERPT and, very soon, in-depth reports on the presentations. So, stay tuned [ http://ec.europa.eu/research/conferences/2005/cer2005/index_en.html ] …

The science village

© Olivier Polet
© Olivier Polet
With its intersecting aisles, laid out in four sections, the vast exhibition hall was a kind of pan-European village of scientific communication. In the research project presentation area, several stands lent a distinctive touch to the ‘art of communicating’. Three other areas were devoted to: professional services specialising in building bridges between science and society; local and national communication initiatives; and the activities of educational networks, science museums, major public event organisations and the multimedia publishing sector.

The press at the forefront

As a key actor in communicating science, the press was very much in evidence at CER 2005. More than 200 journalists were present, representing all the media. They were there to cover the event, attend the special media and journalism workshops and, in many cases, to contribute to the debates and presentations.

The comic strip, reflecting and stimulating scientific thought

CER 2005 ended with voting by the conference participants to award three prizes. Best debate: Talking nano – What makes nanotechnology so special? Best stand: ITER – The way to fusion energy. Best speaker: Lars-Peter Linke (Cognos AG, DE) – Training session: Writing for the media and the public.
CER 2005 ended with voting by the conference participants to award three prizes. Best debate: Talking nano – What makes nanotechnology so special? Best stand: ITER – The way to fusion energy. Best speaker: Lars-Peter Linke (Cognos AG, DE) – Training session: Writing for the media and the public.
At the Brussels comic museum, the comic strip is revealed as both a reflection of man’s perception of science and a stimulus for the scientific imagination. With Tintin on the one hand and Horta on the other, the CER 2005 opening cocktail was held against the backdrop of architectural elegance and familiar heroes of the comic strip – including Professor Calculus and other ‘mad’ scientists who fuelled the imaginations of past generations.

Multiple dialogues

© Olivier Polet
© Olivier Polet
Yes, a science programme can make for prime-time viewing. No, teaching science in schools is not a lost cause. Where is the border between the knowledge society and the fast-thinking society? Science has everything to gain from dressing itself up for a bit of street theatre! How to go beyond the ‘Frankenfood’ label applied to GM foods? What about the radio? Are we not underestimating the power of the sounds of science?

In addition to these varied debates, many sessions and/or training workshops presented by communication professionals attracted a large audience of attentive researchers seeking to soak up some of the dialogue skills that continue to be neglected in their study programmes.

Warsaw-Vienna – children’s universities

In Poland, the adventure began in 2001 when about 30 students from the Warsaw University of Technology decided to get out of the city and spend a couple of weeks in three villages deep in the Polish countryside. Their aim was to show children living in these remote locations that higher education was not an inaccessible dream. The project was entitled Zielona Green Action and offered the children holiday courses in a range of subjects – maths, science, history, literature, languages – which were designed to supplement their school curriculum and developed in co-operation with their teachers. The students themselves were warmly welcomed by the local community and lodged with the villagers.

During the summer of 2003, a similar project started up in Vienna, known as KinderuniWien. In this case, the children, aged between 7 and 12, attended the university where they were welcomed by some 20 professors. “The main idea was to satisfy the curiosity of the children and of the scientists. In a sense, they share the same nature of always asking questions and looking for answers. The children’s university is an enriching experience for the children, who come away with new questions, new ideas and new ways of finding answers,” explains Karoline Iber, the concept initiator and Project Manager. "But it is a rewarding experience for the scientists too, as they are faced with the challenge of explaining their work in terms that can be easily understood. Last summer, more than 300 professors and scientists gave courses and workshops. They adopted a range of approaches and succeeded in introducing an atmosphere of fun while working on subjects that can appear very difficult.”

Warsaw-Vienna – children’s universities
In 2005, 3 400 children attended 300 lessons. Most of them came from a relatively privileged socio-economic background and one of the aims of the organisers now is to reach a wider public. The last session, for example, included lessons given in different languages: Slovakian, Polish, English, and also sign language. “Vienna is a multicultural city, with a large proportion of immigrants from all over the world. We want them to know about our activities too, which is why we have distributed information in some 15 languages.” The operation has certainly proved a success, and last summer there was a notably high number of Turkish children in the university lecture theatres.

A programme of cross-border exchanges has also been launched, with 25 Slovakian children attending Vienna University and 25 Austrians going to Bratislava University. Another scheme has been set up in co-operation with the organisers of the Zielona Green Action which has expanded considerably in the past few years. Some 300 students from 20 Polish universities and other higher education establishments now participate in this, together with 1 500 schoolchildren from villages throughout Poland’s diverse regions. There is also a transfer of knowledge and good practices with the KinderuniWien project, in particular with a view to preparing the educational content available on the websites. 

Michael: the European Cultural Area is just a click away

Michael: the European Cultural Area is just a click away
Examples of European culture – archaeological sites, historical heritage, renowned masterpieces and less well-known objects of beauty – are now being collected on a meta-site that will permit fast and easy access to the digital collections of museums, libraries and archives in various European countries. Michael – short for Multilingual Inventory of Cultural Heritage in Europe – was launched in 2004 by partners in the public and private sector in France, Italy and the UK, with EU support through the eTen programme. In addition to highlighting national collections, the project also seeks to develop and make available know-how in the field of digitisation and the compilation of web-based inventories.

Michael draws on the technologies and experience of the French catalogue of digital cultural collections as well as the prototype of the Franco-Italian portal of digital collections (WML technologies). One of its aims is to encourage interoperability and the use of common standards in the principal national initiatives for access to collections. 

Initially accessible in three languages, Michael will expand its language versions as new participants join, and will ultimately become a genuinely polyglot site. An advanced search engine will make it possible to retrieve information on dispersed collections, the work of a single artist, or documents from a single period from various European museums or libraries. The project initiators believe these applications will be of use not only to researchers and teachers but also to the development of new services, in the field of education and tourism for example. 

The Knowledge Bank

The Knowledge Bank © CNRS/Laurent Robin
© CNRS/Laurent Robin
The slogan of this French databank, set up by the French département of Essonne, is ‘le savoir partagé’ or ‘knowledge shared’. It is aimed at young or even very young people, teachers, parents and anyone else endowed with an inquisitive mind. It offers everything from games for the very youngest to science and society chatrooms, documents on research presented in a straightforward language, a very practical directory of the various knowledge players (institutions, companies, associations, etc.), news in brief, the ‘debate of the month’, a diary of events and in-depth analysis of notable events. There are also dossiers on fundamental subjects of concern to us all – the Earth, the Universe, man, life, etc. – while, in the interests of a better understanding of the role of researchers, each week brings a more precise presentation on the work of an individual researcher. The partners in this project, which is unashamedly devoted to the popularisation of science, aim to stimulate a renewed interest in science at a time when we are often told that students are avoiding science subjects and citizens want more information on the strategic choices that affect their everyday lives – and their future. Central to the effectiveness of their approach is “the presentation of scientific themes in terms of their ethical, economic, social and cultural implications”.

Although regional-based, the Knowledge Bank also seeks to be “a tool in the service of the scientific community and the general public, without geographical restriction”, and its organisers say they are “ready for exchange and co-operation with those running similar initiatives within the EU”. 

Spreading the joy of maths

Spreading the joy of maths
Candidates for the 2005 Descartes Prize for the Communication of Science include a number of mathematicians. These skilfully demonstrate how what are essentially abstract exercises in pure science can be both fun and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. Maths is an exercise in mental dexterity and Albrecht Beutespacher has always wanted to communicate to others the unadulterated pleasure he finds in this kind of gymnastics. He first designed the travelling exhibition Mathematik zum Anfassen (Maths at your fingertips) that later evolved into an interactive museum, the Mathematikum, in Giessen, the university town just north of Frankfurt (DE). The interactive exhibits – over 100 in all – include stunning puzzles, giant soap bubbles, strange bridges and trick mirrors. Presented in German and English, they are designed to be of interest to families, schools and children. The principle is to touch, experiment, and literally and figuratively get to grips with numbers, shapes and space.

As a means of learning to see and understand, Albrecht Beutespacher likes to take the example of a football. It looks perfectly round, but in fact is made up of different polygons – hexagons and pentagons – put together in a particular way. At the top of each football, three elements join. Which to choose? Three hexagons would produce a shape that is too flat,. A hexagon and two pentagons? That would be too pointed. The solution is to take two hexagons and a pentagon, providing the most spherical possible structure. Each summit must be the same for the construction to be homogenous and the two pentagons never touch. Apparently, this is also the structure of the famous fullerene molecule for which Harold Kroto and Rick Smalley won the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

 

The United Kingdom of Museums

The United Kingdom of Museums
Launched in 1999 and adapted to its present form in 2001, The 24-Hour Museum is a one-stop website presenting the activities of more than 3 000 UK museums. Science, architecture, history, archaeology, the history of art, contemporary design and, in fact, just about everything that reflects the cultural wealth and civilisation of the United Kingdom and beyond are featured. By clicking on the What’s On section, visitors can choose their activity for the day in their local area: a museum visit, exhibition or lecture on the cultural heritage, for example.

The Show Me section is designed especially for children, their teachers and parents. The home page presents a series of boxes with a picture, brief description of content and the magical words ‘Show me’. A simple click then reveals all about dinosaurs, the Romans, the Vikings, butterflies, the Victorian Age, design, science, technology or whatever else may have caught your eye. There are teaching packs to help teachers prepare a visit or subject presentation. Parents can also discover some interesting ideas for books, gifts and ‘intelligent’ games. For the very smallest there are interactive games, puzzles and a competition.  

Angels and Demons at CERN

Angels and Demons at CERN
Some – and there are many of them – praise Dan Brown to the skies, while others see his books as pseudo literature boosted by clever marketing. Amid all the investigations, coded messages, secret societies and Vatican stones, science is also a key player in his novels. In Angels and Demons, the hero, Robert Langdon, steals an original Galileo manuscript from the Vatican archives. Another character, Leonardo Vetra, is apparently inspired by Rolf Landua, a physicist at CERN working on the capture of antimatter, who acted as Dan Brown’s adviser on the subject. To find out more and to separate the fact from the fiction of antimatter, as presented in Angels and Devils, go to the CERN website where you can also play a fun but very educational game.

Imagine Venus 

Imagine Venus


What do you think Venus looks like when seen from above, as ESA’s Venus Express probe will view it? Opposite, is an artist’s impression – but no more than an individual’s view and many more could be imagined. The drawing competition is open to young people (maximum age 17) and adults (over 18). The only limit on the imagination is the format, which must be postcard size (10 x 15 cm). The closing date for entries is 14 January 2006. Entries can be sent by post or e-mail. Find out more [ http://planetary.org/postcards_from_venus/ ] about Venus and stimulate your imagination.

A number of prizes will be awarded in the two categories, including a visit to ESA mission control in Darmstadt (DE) in April 2006.