five days, the main CERN building became a place of celebration, the relaxed
atmosphere in marked contrast to the greyness of the surroundings. Stands
were set up on both sides of the aisles, on two floors. Everybody was free
to browse - for ideas, for images, for new contacts. Meanwhile the main
amphitheatre, with its succession of events and conferences, played to a
full house. But the good humour was certainly not at the expense of serious
- and multilingual - debate.
Plastic + adhesive
tape = music. Gordon Douglas, Irish flute player. Who said physics
demonstrations clearly conveyed the common concerns. The notion of physics
as 'boring and difficult' seemed to hover in the air, like a spectre to
be banished from these innovative surroundings. But how? How can young
people be motivated to train as the engineers, technicians and researchers
- or even Nobel prize-winners - of the future? The challenge is formidable
in the light of the growing trend, seen on both sides of the Atlantic,
for students to turn away from physics courses. While the answers were
many and varied, one seemed to be as obvious as it was essential: it is
up to education to adapt to the students, as the opposite approach is
a lost cause.
Discovery, imagination, creativity: concepts which can be expressed in
many ways. For example, take the curious clocks invented and produced
by a group of Czech children aged between 11 and 13. Irena Koudelkova,
their teacher, had simply asked each child to make a mechanism using whatever
means they liked. One result consists of a cardboard cup, into which sand
is poured, placed on a pivoting plank (like a see-saw) which tips down
when it reaches a certain weight, thereby completing an electric circuit
lighting up a bulb. Like an hourglass, this 'clock' measures intervals
of three minutes. 'Having assembled the mechanism, the pupil then explains
it to the others. That is when he has to learn to organise his thoughts,'
explains Irena Koudelkova.
At the Portuguese
stand you enter a completely different field. 'Holography is a very effective
way of teaching both geometric and wave optics,' explains Pedro Pombo,
who is a physicist at Aveiro University, which does not prevent him from
cooperating with the high school in Covilhâ, about 200 kilometres away,
where he completed his secondary school studies and began his teaching
career. Passionately interested in holography himself, Mr Pombo wants
to share this enthusiasm with others. 'When I suggested to my classes
of 15- to17-year-olds that they make a hologram, they tried, failed, tried
again and finally succeeded. That is how to develop the scientific spirit.'
In addition to the debates and
discussions, and before the evening shows, the two floors of CERN
were filled with stands presenting 'physics' in all its infinite
variety. With pupils displaying their projects, researchers giving
demonstrations, and 'magicians' performing their experiments before
a live audience. The theme for this bustling marketplace? Science
A few metres away is the French stand of the Petits Débrouillards,
an association of 500 clubs in 14 countries covering both schools and
educational leisure activities. 'We visit schools on request,' explains
Mustapha Waffa, one of its organisers. 'If a teacher tells us he wants
to work on the concept of pressure, we prepare an educational game or
an experiment on the subject and take it to the classroom.' At which point
Mustapha gives us a demonstration which is almost like a magic act. He
runs his hand along a transparent, U-shaped tube containing water. As
he does so, so the water moves along the tube with his hand. Quite simply,
he had covered the end of the tube with his other hand where he worked
a kind of sucker to control the internal pressure. This device allows
children to experiment with the relation of cause and effect between the
pressure and the movement of the liquid.
a need to rediscover the meaning of research and to work on how to present
the sciences, which are often portrayed in a way which is too formal and
abstract,' commented Philippe Busquin during his visit to Physics on
stage. This is exactly how the participants at this November event
intended to communicate their knowledge - and their passion.
The countries of the European Union plus Bulgaria, the Czech Republic,
Hungary, Norway, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Switzerland.