The 15th European Union Contest for Young Scientists
Speech given at the
award ceremony by Mr Achilleas Mitsos,
Director-General for Research, European Commission
Budapest, Hungary 25th
Minister Balint Magyar [Minister of
Minister Istvan Csillag [Minister of
President of the Jury, Dr Merbold,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
And, you the
It is a great please for me to address you
at the awards ceremony for the 15th European Union
Contest for Young Scientists.
In particular, I would like
to say a few words directly to the "Young
Scientists" who are here today: something about the event
itself; about the importance of science to our societies; and
also about the way that careers in scientific research are
Firstly, as Director General
for Research at the European Commission, I am often asked
about the sorts of things that we do at the Commission to
support scientific research in Europe - and why we do it!
Why we do it is simple: we
want to ensure that Europe continues to grow not just in terms
of its economic development, but also in terms of its social
development – the quality of life, the well being of all of
its citizens, and the promotion of equality of opportunity and
In all of these areas,
scientific research plays a key role.
To explain how, or what we
do to support research in Europe, however, would take a little
longer! But in summary it is not that complicated either:
At the Commission, we look at the sorts
of joint research projects that can be better accomplished
– or, indeed, can only be accomplished - through
collaboration of teams of scientists from across Europe.
We look at the sorts of equipment and
And we look at the people – the
researchers, scientists and the technologists - who
actually do the work!
This is last point is very
important because it concerns the scientists themselves and
our need – society’s need - for scientists.
Indeed, it is almost
impossible to think of an area of our daily lives that has not
benefited from the scientific breakthroughs and technological
advances made by ordinary men and women - who also happen to
be enthusiastic, dedicated and inspired scientists.
Whereas science and the
discovery of new knowledge can at times appear mysterious,
there is, however, nothing mysterious about becoming a
It’s about walking around
with your eyes open; asking questions; challenging ideas;
seeing what others have seen – but thinking what no-one has
thought before! Yes it is a sort of non-conformity!
This is really the point of
the European Union Contest for Young Scientist that has
brought you, the Young Scientists, here this week to Budapest.
It is not just about winning, but it is a contest and there
will be winners.
It is more about learning
how science is done both through your individual or team
efforts, and by seeing what others have done to rise to the
scientific challenges that they have set themselves.
Team effort is important.
There is room and a place for individual effort, but science
is essentially a collaborative adventure that cuts across
national boundaries. It involves teams of researchers,
sometimes competing but always contributing towards improving
our understanding of the world in which we live.
In Europe we have such a
rich and diverse mixture of experience and achievement
especially in the sciences – and I include also the social
The European Union through
the research programmes that the Commission manages is helping
us to reinforce the exchanges of experience and knowledge
between its members. It does this in a number of ways but
ultimate it always involves collaboration across Europe.
And the Contest, itself,
highlights many of these facets.
Science and society
Let me now turn to the role
of science in our modern societies. I have already stressed
the importance of science to our daily lives. This importance
is evident both in terms of the potential of science to bring
about significant change, and in terms of the countless number
of areas in which scientific techniques are being applied.
Examples include: medicines
and healthcare; transport; communications and computing
technologies; safety; biotechnology;
This ability of science to
affect our lives means that science also affects the
development of the societies in which we live. Science has to
be used responsibly: it must not be imposed on society but
must take into account the real needs, aspirations and
concerns of ordinary people.
Doing science can be fun:
and I am sure that you have all experienced this in the work
that you have presented at this Contest.
It is not really that
different for professional scientists. There is little that
can match the pure intellectual challenge and satisfaction of
pursuing a particular line of research or technological
development. But this must be tempered with a clear
understanding of how others might perceive the work or its
This is perhaps the greatest
challenge facing scientists today: the world is not a
laboratory - we are living in it! And whatever the field of
human endeavour, we have to behave responsibly – and science
is no exception.
This is why the European
Commission research programmes (and the national programmes of
EU Member states) are combining support for science with the
need for better communication.
This is a process of
dialogue in which issues such as safety, environmental impact,
ethical acceptability, risk and uncertainty are debated with
all sectors of our society. This is about changing the
direction of research agenda to avoid future problems.
Careers in Science
So does all this affect
careers in science? Yes it does – but only in a positive
Old stereotypes of
white-coated scientists – usually men - immersed in some
obscure work in some back-room laboratory have done much to
harm the image of scientists and have reinforced impressions
that scientists are isolated from the rest of society.
But sometimes the scientists
themselves are to blame – being more comfortable hiding
behind the complexities of their subjects rather than
explaining in simpler terms what they do!
It is not surprising,
therefore, that today more and more young people believe that
science careers are unattractive. It is also not surprising
that it has become harder to relate research directly to the
high technology goods and services that we use and need.
But changes are starting to
take place in the way that science is being done to highlight
the relevance of science to society and also involve society
more closely in deciding how science is done and used.
The image of a scientists
will also change: it will not lose any of the professional
status that it currently enjoys, but will take on a greater
social dimension that will add extra satisfaction to the work
Obviously these changes will
take time: those of you who go on to follow science careers
will experience these changes at first hand. But you will also
have a role to play: both in terms of the work you do, and the
need to explain in clear and understandable terms why you are
doing it and how it will contribute towards the overall
development of society.
Finally, I would like to
address a few words to our Hosts during this week, and to the
other key people who have contributed towards the success of
this year’s event here in Budapest. In fact, I am
particularly glad that the Contest is here since after many
years of close co-operation Hungary is now one of the new
Member States of the Union.
The Contest takes months if
not years of planning and hard work and without the dedication
and effort of the Host Organiser of this year’s event, the
Hungarian Association for Innovation in co-operation with the
Hungarian Ministry for Education, we would not be here today.
I also want to extend my
sincere gratitude to the members of the Jury for their
particularly difficult task of selecting the winning projects.
This is never an easy task and I know that they have
deliberated at length before coming to their conclusion.
Last but clearly not least I
would like to extend a special thank you to our guest
scientists: Nobel Laureates Sir Harry Kroto, and Professor
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