Lifting the veil off research’s human face
It has been a century since Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity which – along with the general theory which he released a few years later – turned many of our most basic notions of physics on their heads. He not only changed our perception of space and time, but also had a massive influence – with his trademark wild grey hair and eccentric behaviour – on the cultural perception of scientists.
Despite the human face Einstein helped give the scientific community, and although scientists and researchers are generally respected by society for their work, they have a mixed image in the popular mind: many people think of them almost as other-worldly, living in a different dimension. Then, there is the mad and evil scientist who lives in horror fiction and comics.
To enhance the image of researchers and promote research as an attractive study and career option, the ‘Researchers in Europe’ initiative was launched in 2005. From June to November, this pan-European scheme sought to entertain and inform European citizens about what it means to be a researcher and the appeal of a research career.
Events organised under the RIE umbrella included open-door days, exhibitions, ‘meet and greet’ researchers, concerts, and theatre productions. The most exciting and experimental was undoubtedly the Pan-European Researchers’ Night which took place simultaneously in 45 cities in 15 European countries on Friday 23 September 2005. It brought together researchers, the public, from children to senior citizens, and encouraged them to let their hair down and get to know each other better. Nearly 100 events took place in the context of RIE: 29 directly funded by the Commission in 18 countries, 32 associated events and 37 Researchers’ Nights. The Commission provided nearly €3 million in direct financing.
Full title: Researchers in Europe
Project acronym: RIE
EU funding: €2.7 million
Project launch: June 2005
Duration: 6 months
European Commission contact person: Colette Renier
Science in society significance
Under the slogan ‘researchers are among us’, RIE sought to dispel certain prevalent misperceptions about the popular image of scientists and researchers by showing that they, too, are normal people with a passion for what they do and a desire to fulfil themselves. The initiative went some way towards removing the veil of mystery surrounding researchers and showed the diverse and varied faces of research.
Europe may soon suffer from an acute shortage of researchers. This is because demand is growing at a time when fewer young people are joining research ranks. By highlighting, through innovative events, the exciting work researchers do and the promising job prospects in science, RIE aimed to inspire more young people to pursue scientific careers. Given its focus on the ‘human factor’, it is perhaps unsurprising that this successful event was organised by the Research DG’s Directorate D ‘The human factor, mobility and Marie Curie activities’.
- Glitzy public launch event in Luxembourg – June 2005;
- Events across Europe – June-November 2005;
- European Researchers’ Night – September 2005;
- Closing event in Dublin – December 2005.