Silvia Giuliani1 and Armida Torreggiani2
1 ISMAR-CNR, via Gobetti 101, Bologna (Italy)
2 ISOF-CNR, via Gobetti 101, Bologna (Italy)
Are you a teenage student from 12 to 19 years old? Do you think Science is cool and would like to become a scientist? Or else, do you think Science is really boring and has nothing to do you with your life? You must know this: in both cases, Italian researchers are working for you, either in sustaining you in your will to become one of them or to help you understand that Science is useful and, why not?, even fun! How do they do that? It’s easy to say: with their participation to the science dissemination project “Il Linguaggio della Ricerca”, (Italian for “The Research Language – LdR”; Fig. 1), where you can directly experience the life and work of a researcher and test your ability to act as a Science popularizer, an expert that is able to convey scientific principles correctly and make them fun and interesting for the public.
Since 2003, LdR promotes a close collaboration among schools and scientific research in order to turn on young people’s interest (YOUR interest!) for scientific research and diffusion through their involvement in a popularization exercise. In particular it has coordinated many dissemination activities among schools thanks to research scientists working in Bologna (Northern Italy) at the National Research Council (CNR), the National Institute of Astrophysics (OAF-INAF), and the National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development (ENEA). In 2009 the LdR project was selected among the most innovative national practices for science teaching and in 2013 it represented a case study for the European science teaching project “Science Teaching European Network for Creativity and Innovation in Learning” (STENCIL). In 2014 the Leading Enabling Technologies for Societal Challenges Conference (LET’S2014) hosted the XI Annual Conference “The Research Language : a bridge between Research and School”, where prizes were awarded by the Italian Minister for Education and by the CNR president. 700 students and teachers took part to this event. (http://www.lets2014.eu/newsmedia/video-gallery/, in particular to the XI Annual Conference “The research Language” Part II; http://www.lets2014.eu/programme/programme-detail/; Fig. 2).
View of the participants to the XI Annual Conference in 2014.
Since 2019, the network has enlarged to a national level, thanks to the support by the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MIUR). At present, the National LdR Network involves 25 research institutes in cities all over Italy: Bari, Biella, Faenza, Firenze, Genova, Roma, Palermo, Perugia, Pisa, Potenza and Sassari (Fig. 3).
Location of Research areas and institutes involved in the LdR national network.
The project’s motto has been “borrowed” from the greatest scientist of the 1900s, Albert Einstein, who used to say that: “You do not really understand something if you are not able to explain it to your grandmother”, meaning that you need to fully grasp the extent of a concept (you need to study!!) before being able to transfer it to others. For this reason, the LdR project has always focused on the involvement of young people like YOU in a popularization exercise of scientific topics. In order to reach this goal, the project is developed every year in collaboration with schools and is divided into several phases, as represented in Fig. 4.
The synthesis of the LdR development process from Research to School.
First, you and your teachers choose the topic you want to be informed on and contact the relative experts through the project website. Then researchers and/or dissemination experts meet you at school and at their working place. During these meetings, researchers and experts try to inspire you, talking about their work and presenting their research topics. These latter cover a vast overview of the running researches and range from physics, chemistry, nanotechnologies, to radio astronomy and mathematics, earth sciences, climate, environment and agri-food sector. After that, you are asked to become Science popularizers by creating dissemination material on the topics covered (in Italian AND English because this latter is the language used to communicate Science!). This material can be of any type (videos, websites, flyers, comics, posters, 3D models, etc..), the only limit being your creativity! (Fig. 5).
The best dissemination materials produced by the students are awarded every year during the project Annual Conference held at the CNR Research Area in presence of the school classmates and administrators, research scientists, local authorities and socio-economic actors. Some of the best works are periodically uploaded on the project website in order to ensure visibility and sharing of project results, methodology and strategy.
Examples of Artworks realized by students.
All these years’ experience has demonstrated that your creativity is at a much higher level than expected and you always manage to surprise the experts!!! You and your materials are then the protagonist of the Annual Conference during which best works for each category are awarded.
The project has also successfully confronted the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic: several lessons have been transformed into webinars and others will be soon, while the 2020 edition of the final conference with the presentation of students’ products has been held online on January 21st 2021 (see the video recording).
To date, the LdR project has involved more than 20000 students all over Italy!!!
This article has been published in the February 2021 edition of the ENGIE Magazine.