Science graduates, museum staff and enthusiasts across Europe are sharing their passion for research by organising temporary exhibitions in shopping centres and parks to help inspire the next generation.
From information boards in city parks to temporary science ‘pop-up’ shops in bustling shopping centres, the PLACES project is working to inspire young people to take up careers in science and technology.
‘We put together chemistry experiments that foam, and fume, and explode - the kind of thing that captures children’s imagination,’ said Miruna Amza, who coordinates PLACES in Bucharest, Romania. ‘Our biggest success was a remote-controlled robot built by engineering students at the University Politehnica of Bucharest ... the kids went wild over it.’
Georgina Heron, a cosmology graduate who volunteered to set up one of the PLACES projects in Nottingham, UK, ran a temporary pop-up shop for four weeks in the autumn of 2012, which later made an appearance at London’s Barbican Centre in March and April 2013.
‘The idea behind the pop-up shop is to promote science and technology as fun and creative,’ she said. Alongside interactive science experiments, guides and career advisers were on hand, and video lectures on space science were streamed live from University College London. There was also the opportunity to play a game of Twister on a mat with squares highlighting elements on the periodic table.
Looking for fresh recruits
The PLACES project brings together 67 science centres, museums, and festivals in cities across Europe in locally organised action plans to give youngsters first-hand experience of science.
‘It made science come to life for me.’
Becky Jantschenko, a third-year biology student in the UK
To remain close to their target audience, each of the scientific institutions participating in ongoing PLACES projects works with a regional authority. Cooperation with ten European regional networks is built into the project to help share ideas, resources, and results across the EU.
At the same time, PLACES showcases job opportunities in scientific research for young people, and illustrates how dynamic and international scientific research really is. In this way it is attracting new talent to science, along with fields such as technology, engineering and mathematics.
‘It made science come to life for me,’ said Becky Jantschenko, who represented the UK at the 2010 European Science Youth Parliament, an event hosted by a PLACES project partner.
Dozens of secondary school students attended the event to engage in heated discussions about science policy. ‘Our group had to debate whether genetic screening should be allowed. We laboured through some of the technical background. But then, before the debate started, a professional biologist came in to talk with us about it. What they said was fascinating.’
The fascination of science
After the debate, Jantschenko phoned the university where she had just been accepted to study English literature and persuaded the staff to change her course to biology. She is now in her third year and planning her dissertation on lupus erythematosus, a group of autoimmune diseases.
‘I didn’t know that, in science, there’s always more to learn. We’re still figuring out how DNA works.’ Asked if her studies are offering the same excitement as the debates that changed her plans, she said: ‘It’s even better, and very different. At university, it’s not about the knowledge I have, it’s about learning new things, and I love it.’
By the time it finishes in 2014, the PLACES project aims to have developed a series of recommendations on how cities can promote science, which it will reveal at a final conference in Bremen, Germany.
The rapidly changing coronavirus pandemic means governments and health authorities need to act fast. But medical advice — and pleas for help — are being hindered by language barriers and misinformation online. Improving communication for vulnerable communities in particular has become a race against time.
Training programmes to improve people’s social and cognitive skills should target people in their late 30s and early 40s as these abilities start to decline earlier than previously thought, according to researchers who are looking at how social abilities change over time.
Eavesdropping on the shudders and groans echoing deep inside alien worlds like Mars and the moon is revealing what lies far beneath their surfaces and could teach us more about how our own planet formed.
More than six months into the coronavirus crisis, data show that not just age, but also biological sex plays a pivotal role in the manifestation and response to Covid-19, with more men dying from acute infections versus women in the short term. This discrepancy has shined a spotlight on a key theme that has gained traction in recent years: is enough being done to account for sex and gender in disease and medicine? Not enough, says Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione, the chair of sex and gender-sensitive medicine at Radboud University in the Netherlands and a member of the European Commission’s expert group on gendered innovations.
Earth is not the only place in our solar system that shakes with seismic activity.
Dr Sabine Oertelt-Prigione on a ‘moment of awakening’ for medical research.
Dr Kate Rychert studies ocean plate structures.