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"Encouraging people to participate" in the Science Year

In the competition for the rather sought-after award "Science City", the city of Constance had to surrender, albeit marginally, to the city of Oldenburg. This is, however, no reason for Constance to abandon the planned "Science Year 2009". Working together with the city’s universities, colleges and other partners, this city on Lake Constance has plans to organise numerous cross-border projects to spark its citizens’ enthusiasm for the natural sciences and accompany them on their way to become a knowledge society.

Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt: project leader of the "Science Year 2009" project (Photo: Statnik)
Innovation, education and culture – these are the priorities of the city’s “Science Year 2009”. Working together with companies, educational institutions and organisations, Constance has set up a varied science programme. Talks, open days, hands-on events, exhibitions and intensive scientific encounters have been set up to encourage the people in the Lake Constance region (the Lake Constance is bordered by Germany, Switzerland and Austria; editor’s note) to be pro-active. “We want to link the economy, research and culture with each other, bring together people and institutions, and foster people’s continued interest in the sciences,” said Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt, project leader of the city of Constance, describing the city’s major aims in the upcoming Science Year.

Projects that provide information and encourage people to actively participate

The numerous activities have a major focus on the life sciences and technology. The organisers hope to reduce the barriers between the different scientific disciplines. To achieve this, the natural scientists at Constance University will open their laboratories for their colleagues from the humanities. On the last Friday of each month, the natural scientists will take the specialists in German studies, historians or sociologists on a tour through their laboratories, and will present their major research areas in a concise and generally understandable way.
Other projects will invite the general public to participate in real research. In co-operation with the Institute of Limnology at the University of Constance, schoolchildren, associations and individuals from Germany, Austria and Switzerland will work together and measure Lake Constance and collect data about its temperature, flow rate and the distribution of harmful substances in the lake. “We hope to communicate a feeling of “community” and show that a successful collective project decisively depends on the reliable co-operation of every single person,” said Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt.

Children and teenagers will be able to enjoy hands-on bio- and nanotechnology in an exciting atmosphere. In co-operation with BioLAGO, the mobile research laboratories “BioLab” and “Nano-Truck” will open their doors on one of the Lake Constance ferries at the “Science meets Industry” day. In addition, the trucks will be present in the centre of Constance for a whole week and take the young and old into the exciting world of the nano- and biocosms. The topic of genetic engineering will be dealt with at the adult education centre. “The events and activities will give everybody the possibility to develop their own view about genetic engineering,” said Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt.

Making the life sciences exciting

Pro-rector of the University of Constance: Prof. Dr. Ulrich Rüdiger (Photo: University of Constance)
According to Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt, the “cross-border promotion of young people in the natural and technical disciplines” played a major role when the “Science Year” concept was developed. The initiators have the goal of showing young people “that their everyday life is full of mathematics and biotechnology”. The University of Constance also finds it important to arouse the curiosity of children and young adults for chemistry, biology, or physics, and will offer a broad range of events and activities during the “Science Year”. According to Prof. Ulrich Rüdiger, the research pro-rector at the University of Constance, the Faculty of Biology will organise a “Children’s University” in which lectures and events will focus on the topic of science, and has plans to set up a “Scientific laboratory for schoolgirls”.

Moreover, a doctoral student at Constance University is currently developing a “Knowledge suitcase for kindergartens and primary schools with scientific key phenomena”,” said Ulrich Rüdiger, highlighting a project that is being carried out in co-operation with the Thurgau Teacher Training College. This project has the goal of enabling children to develop an early and natural interest in the sciences and technology. “Communicating with children means to integrate them actively,” said Rüdiger explaining their intention of disseminating knowledge to children. In general, Prof. Ulrich Rüdiger is certain that knowledge can be communicated the best by choosing topics that interest children and by choosing an appropriate language. “Bad content will not become better through a good way of communicating it,” said the physicist.

Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt believes that time will have to show whether the numerous modern and interactive formats such as ‘bio-trucks’, ‘knowledge-ferries’, or ‘education towers’ will be able to foster young people’s continued interest in the life sciences. “This type of science communication is still in its infancy and its effect can only be assessed within a few years’ time. The success of the formats cannot be deduced from the number of visitors,” said the “Science Year” project manager. After the completion of the “Science Year” at the end of 2009, the project will be evaluated in co-operation with parent and pupil representatives, teachers, lecturers and sponsors. “The “Science Year” is a rather complex project and much time and money will be needed. Therefore, it is very important for us to find out whether and what we have really achieved,” said Dr. Ursula Herold-Schmidt highlighting that the organisers will accompany some of the young people who have actively participated in the Science Year over a longer period of time and watch their respective development.

mst – 25 July 2008
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