ESOF2014: Europe - The Science Place to Be?

(July 8th, 2014) Every two years, researchers from all areas of science get together to share their knowledge, ideas and experience at the EuroScience Open Forum, ESOF. This year, meeting participants travelled to beautiful Copenhagen. LT reporter, Karin Lauschke, was on-site.



From June 21st to June 26th, scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs came together in the Carlsberg district in Copenhagen to participate in the biennial EuroScience Open Forum. First held in Stockholm in 2004, ESOF has become the most important conference to communicate and present research in Europe. This year, more than 4,000 scientists, students and journalists gathered in Copenhagen. Although the conference’s basic idea is to bring together scientists from all disciplines to “showcase the latest advances in science and technology”, another important focus of the meeting is to stimulate discussion about science and innovation with the public.

The main attraction is, of course, the meeting’s Science Programme, which included seminars, workshops and lectures, covering topics such as human health, physics, robotics, natural resources, engineering and many more, in over 130 sessions. Once again, the ESOF organisers managed to convince some well-known scientists to speak at the conference. Among those lured to the Danish capital were optogenetics pioneer, Karl Deisseroth (Stanford University), chrystallographer and nobelist, Ada Yonath (Weizmann Institute), and neuroscientist, Cori Bargmann (Rockefeller University), who told the audience about her work, correlating behaviour to certain neurons and genes in C. elegans.

And the ESOF organisers had even more in store for the meeting participants. For instance, the Career Programme, which offered insights into the life of a PhD or possible career paths for European researchers. The Science to Business Programme was meant for everyone looking to convert his or her scientific knowledge into cash. Programme items included “I owe my business to my frustration as a scientist”. Also the gender gap issue was broached and extensively debated at the Science Policy Programme – among other topics on science policy. Overall, the conference showed that open databases, open access to publications and sharing of knowledge between disciplines is the main driver of innovation and that we all should take advantage of it.

On the slightly negative side: the event wasn’t really well publicised and thus, only a small circle of scientists knew about ESOF 2014. And, although ESOF is supposed to be an open platform to meet and discuss, even students had to cough up a registration fee of 100 Euros. Nevertheless, the exchange of ideas worked very well; although there is still room for improvement, as Björn Schumacher, biologist from the University of Cologne tells us. The Copenhagen meeting was already his second ESOF experience and he was impressed by the networking activities at the conference. “People really make an effort to reach out to other disciplines. However, it needs to be developed further within the life sciences; we can learn, for example, from the physicists. They are already well organised in addressing the public because they need so much money from the tax payer and have to show where the money goes."

It’s clear that life scientists still have to do their homework when it comes to presenting and promoting their results to the public. And it’s worth it. Why does most funding end up at cancer and disease-related research? Because it is obvious to the public that cancer and other diseases are issues that need to be solved rather sooner than later, through scientific research. At ESOF2014, some talented people communicated this critical relationship between science and society. So, how can the “normal” scientist plug the expanding hole in his wallet? Let the people out there know, why your research is important. Create a need for solving your scientific question and funds will be raised. A good indicator for the increasing interest of the public in science and research was the huge number of journalists, attending ESOF. And one of our favourite science communicators, Marc Abrahams, of IgNobel fame, told us that things have already started to change, "Scientists talking about what they are doing is nothing unusual anymore like it was 10 years ago." Abrahams showed the audience, once again, how it’s done in style, with another of his IgNobel shows, featuring three IgNobel Prize winners, during the Science in the City festival, a public event in the streets of Copenhagen and part of ESOF2014.

So, it’s up to every one of us to take and make something out of the spirit of communication, openness and collaboration at ESOF. The basic parameters are right. Numerous organisations and funding agencies presented great opportunities for researchers to collaborate across scientific and national borders. Horizon2020, for example, provides €80 billion until 2020 and COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) offers financial help for cooperative science projects by covering the costs for networking tools. Additionally, the hosting organisation, EuroScience, presented its association for researchers in Europe and especially Danish foundations, like the Lundbeck Foundation, promoted ways for researchers to communicate with the public.

The next ESOF meeting will take place in Manchester in 2016. The topic for this meeting will be: “Science as Revolution – from Cottonpolis to Graphene”. You can follow the preparations at www.esof2016.org.

And if you don’t want to wait that long for the next ESOF news, you can follow our little summer interview series in July. Lab Times selected four topics from this year’s ESOF Science Programme and spoke to representing scientists. During the next four weeks, you can read about:

  • Antibiotic Resistance: A Ticking Time Bomb! An interactive discussion with Anne Glover, University of Aberdeen, Scotland, Birgitta Henriques Normark, Karolinska Institute, Sweden, and Henrik Caspar Wegener, Technical University of Denmark.

 

  • From Pathogens to Pandemics: Can we Handle the Risk? An interview with Vittoria Colizza, Senior Research Scientist at Inserm & Université Pierre et Marie Curie, France, who shows us her way to handle infectious diseases.

 

  • Young Scientists Fighting Age-related Diseases: Four different ways to approach ageing scientifically, including an interview with Gerald de Haan, European Research Institute for the Biology of Ageing, Netherlands, who tells us why he believes in stem cells and epigenetics.

 

  • Genetic Privacy in the Genomic Era: A Reality Check? Interview with Jan Korbel, EMBL Heidelberg, Germany. He is involved in the 1000 Genomes Project and tells us the difference between sequencing cancer genomes and normal genomes. And, most interestingly, Ewan Birney, EMBL, UK, founder of the Ensembl genome browser and involved in the ENCODE project. He tells us, why his shoe shopping behaviour reveals more about him than his DNA sequence.

Karin Lauschke

Pictures: ESOF logo (www.esof2014.org), conference (Karin Lauschke)




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