The success of Researchers’ Night in Sweden is due to the dedication of local organisers who develop exciting programmes in conjunction with dedicated researchers. In 2014 events were run in 23 cities across the country by universities, science centres, museums, libraries, municipalities and regional development councils, often working in partnership.
Here is a taster of some of the hundreds of activities that took place across Sweden on 26 September 2014:
Exhibitions / research stations
Most of the cities organised some kind of exhibition area with research stations and researchers on hand to talk about their work, answer questions and help out with hands-on activities and experiments:
In Blekinge, activities that proved particularly popular were programming lego robots, analysing a house break-in using artificial intelligence, playing virtual reality games as well as investigating the link between mathematics and computers. They also ran activities for young children, who could make their own slime, programme a robotic bee and participate in a construction challenge. Also, staff from a local tropical animal centre brought insects and animals that members of the public could see and hold as well as learn about conservation issues.
In Kristianstad, children could learn how to patch up their teddy bears in a teddy bear A&E, whereas an older audience could try out new technologies, e.g. be fed by an assistive robot and measure their brainwaves to find out their emotional state.
In Skellefteå, visitors could try their hand at lots of scientific activities at its open Makerspace workshop, including 3D printing and checking the pH values of their tap water.
Some organisers also invited their local emergency services, who brought along technical equipment, such as high-tech mannequins, for visitors to practice on.
Visitors could also conduct their own experiments with researchers on hand to explain the science. In Eskilstuna, there were a number of research stations, including an experiment about water sustainability. Chemistry and physics were the focus on experiment workshops in Sundsvall.
Örnsköldsvik arranged a special experiment for nursery children on the theme of float or sink.
Borrow a scientist
Many local organisers also invited local schools to “borrow a scientist”, whereby pupils receive a visit from a local researcher who explains about their research, what a researcher does and how to become one as well as answer all the pupils’ questions. The researchers are well briefed prior to their visit and this popular concept was particularly successful with lower secondary school pupils.
Informal discussions with researchers
With an emphasis on creating a relaxed environment in which members of the public can discuss topics of interest with researchers, a number of organisers ran events in cafés, restaurants and bars. Topics ranged from ebola, entrepreneurship, parenting and the immune system to genetics, energy use and new technologies to assist the elderly. In short, something for everyone.
Jönköping ran a comprehensive science café programme throughout the day and at their Science After Work events, people could listen to short presentations from researchers over a drink with musical interludes. In Eskilstuna, members of the public could fit in a discussion with researchers over breakfast, a soup lunch, or just a coffee and cake.
Lectures / talks / debates
In all the cities, there were programmes of talks by researchers on every topic possible, including health, food, animal testing, Hollywood physics, JRR Tolkien, space, technology and human trafficking. The majority allowed the audience to ask questions and even meet the researcher afterwards for informal chats and to try out equipment.
Many organisers found that talks related to the local area proved particularly popular, for example, a talk about the history of industrial development in Eskilstuna attracted a large crowd. Topics that visitors had a personal connection to, e.g. physical exercise, energy use, next generation communication etc also proved popular.
Some organisers ran mini lectures, so the public and school classes could fit in a number of topics. Others provided lectures that linked with some of the work being undertaken by local secondary schools. In Sundsvall, one talk gave pupils practical tips on how to approach their work and think in a scientific way like a researcher.
In Skövde, students were on hand to lead the classes around to different talks, which saved lots of time. Stenungsund ran a number of panel debates too.
In Stockholm, one of the highlights was a talk by Swedish astronaut Christer Fuglesang, who spoke to a packed audience in Stockholm about research conducted on the International Space Station.
A story room for children in Kristianstad proved a popular location for families with very young children too.
Two cities also put on shows for the general public. Stockholm ran two performances of an interactive physics show during which a number of exciting experiments were conducted using 100000 volts and -200 degrees celsius.
In Umeå, university lecturers put on a physics and chemistry show.
A knowledge fishing challenge in Skellefteå invited participants to fish out a question and research the answer to win a prize. Both Stenungsund and Öland organised quiz walks whereby visitors had to answer science-related questions along a route.
One main feature of Researchers’ Night was the Researchers’ Grand Prix, a science competition for researchers, who are challenged to present their research to an expert jury and a public audience in just four minutes. Nine cities ran regional heats with communications coaching for the scientists being a key component. Regional winners went on to compete in a national final in Stockholm in November.
Lund also ran a slightly different version in the form of a science slam in which pupils sat on the judging panel and evaluated the researchers’ contributions.
Tours and visits
The SciLifeLab in Stockholm, a national centre for molecular biosciences with focus on health and environmental research, opened its doors to the public for 90m minute tours, guided by researchers. In addition, guided bus tours around Stockholm on the history of medicine proved popular.
Several cities organised walking tours around university campuses and a number of laboratories and research facilities were open to the public. Örnsköldsvik took advantage of visiting ships in its port to offer guided tours of a research boat, naval ship and submarine. In Kristianstad, visitors were offered tours of the sky in a mobile planetarium.
Visitors could also have a night at the movies in Skellefteå and Stenungsund, with showings of films with a scientific theme.