European Researchers’ Night: beSCIENCEd

On 29th September the European Researchers’ Night took place in more than 300 European cities throughout Europe. This wide event is dedicated to science and engineering and takes place every year in September since 2005. It represents an occasion to boost public awareness of the positive role of research in society. The event is officially supported by the European Commission as a part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, funded under the Horizon 2020 programs. In the city of Vienna this special event was titled “beScienced” and took place in the Vienna Institute of Technology. Many researchers, students and engineers were involved, together with private and public research organizations and schools. Numerous booths were present, with some of them devoted to basic science such as physics, chemistry and biology, whereas some others dedicated to the last frontiers of robotics and electrical engineering. Throughout the day, the scientists interacted with a large number of students and families, offering them a wide range of activities such as public shows, hands-on sessions, debates, workshops, guided tours, and science competitions created specifically for this special day.  The aim of beSCIENCEd was to attract young people and their families to the fascinating world of science and showcasing what researchers do for society to make everyday life smarter and easier.

On behalf of the Institute of Theoretical Chemistry of Vienna University, there were the three fellows of the EJD-ITN-TCCM Marie Skłodowska-Curie program: Martina De Vetta, Maximilian Menger and Francesco Talotta, currently in Vienna for their last doctorate year. The three students coordinated by Univ.-Prof. Leticia González and Dr. Markus Oppel (from the same group of the theoretical chemistry institute), drawn up a rich and motley program of guided activities, educational games, science quizzes and virtual interactive simulations, to be carried out together with adults and children throughout the day. The aim was to bring kids closer to the charming world of chemistry, stimulating their curiosity in an interactive, engaging and funny way. Both children and adults challenged themselves to build simple molecules commonly found in everyday life, like caffeine, adrenaline, or glucose, by using simple colored ball and stick toy models. Thanks to the help of the three PhD students, the curious newbie chemists had the possibility to discover some of the most common molecular structures, such as tetrahedral, planar and octahedral structures, and were also able to understand the main differences between the three types of covalent bonds (single, double and triple). Furthermore, the most interested visitors had also the possibility to practice on an IT platform provided by the theoretical chemistry institute, whereby they learned how to build virtual molecular structures on the computer. The very young children were busy with easy puzzles portraying simple molecules.

In addition to these activities, each TCCM student created an educational poster with the aim to explain in a simple manner the research project they are currently working on. In this way the PhD students had the opportunity to interact with visitors and show them how their research in the field of theoretical chemistry is supposed to have a positive impact on people’s daily life. For eachposter a set of questions about the subject were prepared. Every new visitor had the opportunity to look at the three posters and then answer the questions. As an award for taking part to the proposed activities, the newbie chemists received as gift some tasty candies and some colored bubble gums.
In conclusion, thanks to the devised activities and to the commitment from the three PhD students, the chemistry stand was a great success with a lot of attendance during the whole day. Accordingly, the European Researchers Night was a wonderful experience and a precious occasion to go into the scientific vulgarization.

written by:

Francesco Talotta