Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"The smartest night of the year"

I wrote this while flying back from Germany, where I fortuitously happened to finish a conference the day before the “Long Night of Science” (Lange Nacht der Wissenshaften, also known as the “Smartest Night of the Year” - Die Klugste Nacht des Jahr).

Saturday night, June 14, from 5 pm until 1 am the next morning, the cities of Berlin nearby Potsdam and some smaller local communities hold hundreds of events – lectures, demonstrations, tours, discussions, and activities to celebrate and engage the community in science. [right: Humboldt University in Berlin prepares for the celebration]

One directory of activities is 240 pages long. In small print. There were posters and banners up everywhere in the cities. Brochures and flyers fill kiosks and information racks next to others on local tourist destinations. Banners flew from every university. My conference was on the famous Telegraph Hill area in Potsdam that has been a center of science and research since the earliest days of the nation. Germany’s equivalent of a national laboratory for geology (GFZ) is based there, along with the Einstein relativity lab and other facilities. We got a sneak preview of some of the events and activities planned which they said drew thousands every year.

I happened to be in the Friedrichstrasse train station (bahnhof) at just before 5 pm on Saturday and discovered a large information booth [above - just before the crowds arrived] for the festival, staffed with four people who were scrambling to answer questions, restock the bins with brochures, hand out balloons and sell tickets. Yes, the science night tickets cost 10 euros (about $16) but it does include bus and subway fares as well. While I watched, a constant stream of travelers queued up for information and tickets.

What an invigorating environment – being in a nation’s capitol where the biggest thing on a cool summer evening is discovering and enjoying the process, successes, and benefits of science.

The scientists at GFZ and their colleagues looked on the night for the public as a natural and rewarding part of their commitments as scientists.

I don’t know if we could ever hope to engage the American public as well, but I have a vision now of what it might look like if we could.

1 comment:

  1. It is indeed a great event! I participated last year and enjoyed some nice presentations esp. from the Free University of Berlin (where I study geology). Unfortunately I had a short (but very nice) field trip on that day, as well. Though will surely go again to the "smartest night of the year" next year.