Do you sometimes find it hard to understand the latest technical breakthroughs? From time to time, do you feel out of touch with scientific progress despite its impact on society? Scientific communication plays a major role in knowledge societies by bridging the gap between researchers and the general public. Aware of this challenge, the Luxembourg National Research Fund (Fonds national de la recherche, FNR) has created a whole series of mediation tools. Amongst the various initiatives aimed at a younger audience, Mr Science has become a genuine rock star!
Mr Science, the mediator between science and society
For almost 15 years, Mr Science has been sparking the public's enthusiasm in science. Between 2009 and 2021, he answered all sorts of wild and wonderful questions on his science show on Eldoradio, a local radio station that caters for young people. As for television, the Pisa de Wëssensmagazin programme is currently in its 14th season on RTL! The programme has a loyal following thanks to his reports and insight into physics, chemistry, biology and medicine. Having become a familiar face with television viewers, he is also a trusted source for journalists. His influence doesn't stop there - he organises training courses for Luxembourgish school teachers and teaches scientific communication at the University of Luxembourg.
But who is this fictional character who has become a rock star on the Luxembourgish scientific stage? Joseph Rodesch is employed by the FNR and plays a key role for the institution. Through his mediation, he bridges the gap between the field of science and those unfamiliar with this fascinating world. With almost 15 years of experience under his belt, we will review his responsibilities and discuss the role of science communication in our society.
You studied chemistry in Aachen and then embarked on a career in scientific communication. What led you into this line of work? Did a specific event spark a desire to make science understandable for all, in particular young people?
Since I was a child, I have loved to do experiments - some of them quite dangerous. At secondary school, I became fascinated by chemistry because it helped me to embrace rationality and better understand the world around us. When I first took part in the Science Festival in 2003 as an intern, I discovered, together with a colleague, my passion for scientific demonstrations in front of an audience. Subsequently, the workshop manager (Montserrat Filella) gave us free rein to carry out all sorts of scientific experiments and events. After this first experience, the National Museum of Natural History hired us on several occasions for workshops and shows; we even went abroad, which fired up my interest even more…
The FNR considers public engagement an integral part of research, and the joint responsibility of research institutions and funding bodies. According to the institution, Mr Science is an important asset in nurturing the public's interest in science. In your opinion, why does scientific communication play such a vital role in our society?
There are more than 100 scientific mediators in Luxembourg. They focus on the most interesting discoveries in the field of science and present them in an understandable and often entertaining way to a wider audience. Firstly, it's highly important for society, because it's the only way for non-scientists to understand the key issues. However, it's also important for researchers, because many of them do not have the time or the necessary know-how to transmit their discoveries to the uniformed general public. Scientific communication is the bridge which connects these two worlds.
You have been Mr Science for the past 15 years. Have you witnessed a change in the way science is perceived amongst young people?
Yes, absolutely. A lot has changed over the past 15 years. However, that's clearly not because of me! What gives me most pleasure is that the public's attitude to scientific communication has evolved. In the past, university professors were often of the opinion that science communication was a waste of time. However, most of them now appreciate its true potential and its importance for society.
The recent pandemic has shown us the need for effective scientific communication to an adult audience, as well as its ability to improve our understanding of major global events. In light of this situation, is the FNR introducing or planning specific scientific communication measures for the general public?
The pandemic has taught us that a scientific issue can suddenly become the focus of global attention and interest. It was also interesting to see that the scientific community as a whole was called into question in the public sphere. This has provided an opportunity to clarify what science can and cannot do, and to show that knowledge is never set in stone. Other major issues deserve the attention of the whole of society, such as climate change, energy transition, genetics, artificial intelligence, the working world, etc. The science.lu team closely follows all these topics, but it is difficult to predict whether a dynamic of interest comparable to that which we recently experienced will emerge.
To conclude, please could you share with our readers the most exhilarating experience that you have had as Mr Science?
Oh, there are so many! I can do something for the hundredth time and still find it fascinating. However, my favourite experiences are the ones where I took part in the experiment. If I had to pick one moment, it would be when I experienced a loop in an aircraft. I wanted to test if a glass of water could be held upside down in a loop without any water spilling out! From a purely physical perspective, it's nothing extraordinary, but when you're holding the glass of water while the plane performs the loop, it's a really cool experience. I regularly get to live such moments of pure joy in my line of work and I'm truly grateful.
Scientific communication at the University of Luxembourg
The University of Luxembourg also offers doctoral training programmes in scientific communication: DESCOM (doctoral education in science communication). The course is open to Luxembourg doctoral students from all research-related disciplines. It offers them an introduction to the organisational structures of scientific communication and to key communication tools.
As part of DESCOM, the university also organises activities to raise awareness and encourage interaction between the university and the general public. For example, scientific cartoons about research in Luxembourg have been created by doctoral students and artists. LUX:plorations is the most recent and can be downloaded in English, French, German or Luxembourgish on sciencecomics.uni.lu.
Would you like to find out more about the basics of scientific communication? Please check the Pocket guide published by DESCOM.
The University of Luxembourg's commitment to science communication demonstrates the extent to which it plays a key role in our societies, preparing all of us, whether mediators or the general public, to embrace the science-related issues facing society with greater understanding.
Science for curious minds - from 6 to 99 years: don't miss these amazing events!
The FNR co-organises two events which now play a vital role in popularising science in Luxembourg: the Researchers' Days and the Science Festival, which take place on an alternating basis.
This year on 25 and 26 November 2022, it's the Researchers' Days that will take centre stage. This is your chance to enjoy a hands-on experience, to ask the questions that matter to you and to get a very real and personal insight into the world of research. The first day is exclusively reserved for secondary school students - the budding scientist of tomorrow; the second day is open to the public and entry is free. Several workshops have already been announced, therefore you can plan your visit depending on your field of interest: the climate crisis, artificial intelligence, robotics, missions to space and much more. The workshops are adapted to all ages (6 to 99)... you'll be spoilt for choice!
The next edition of the Science Festival, will take place in November 2023.
When researchers meet the next generation of scientists
Since 2010, Researchers in schools ('Chercheurs à l'école'), have helped youngsters find out more about a profession that many are unfamiliar with. The FNR organises meetings during which researchers from all fields of science can explain the life of a researcher to students: from their initial academic career, to their interest in one or another scientific discipline, to the first steps into the professional sphere, to the subsequent career challenges and opportunities. For adolescents, it offers an ideal opportunity to ask the questions they have on their minds and to receive information on the advantages as well as any potential disadvantages of embarking on a career in science.