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ŚFN takes off: we were in Leiden - European City of Science

Leiden — Dutch city with a population of approximately 120,000, located 40 kilometres to the South-West from Amsterdam and 19 kilometres form The Hague, the place of birth of the world-famous DJ Armin van Buuren, Noble prize winners in physics Johannes Diderik van der Waals and Hendrik Lorentz, as well as Rembrandt himself. It is the home city of the oldest Dutch university, a place where Albert Einstein spent several years of his academic career. We had the opportunity to visit Leiden, the European City of Science 2022, as representatives of the Silesian Science Festival Katowice.

The trip was made possible thanks to the close cooperation between Leiden and Katowice, the European City of Science 2024 — the success of the previous editions of ŚFN had a significant contribution in awarding Katowice this prestigious title.

For the entire year 2022, Leiden organises scientific activities within the European City of Science, and we attended the ArtScience Week, the most similar event to our festival in terms of its form.

Aneta Szczygielska-Łaciak, PhD, and Marcin Łaciak, PhD, academics from the Faculty of Science and Technology, and the ŚFN Exact Sciences Zone Coordinators prepared an exhibition stand with public experiments and physics riddles and joined the 33rd EUCYS, i.e. the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. The contestants, science adepts aged 14 to 20 from various EU countries, presented a variety of projects (including a robot made of blocks that played darts — specific fields on the dartboard corresponded to coordinates given to the robot). A special feature of the event was the venue where the results of the young scientists' efforts could be seen, as the competition was held in the interior of a... 14th-century church. Hooglandse Kerk was built as a Catholic church (dedicated to St Pancras), after the Reformation it became the property of the Protestant community, and now — while no longer being a place of worship — is a clear testimony to the social changes that have taken place in the Netherlands (one of the most conservative countries in Europe as recently as the 1960s).

Front kościoła gotyckiego Hooglandse Kerk

Lucien Geelhoed, Executive Director of Leiden European City of Science 2022, told us about his work on the European City of Science project and gave us plenty of advice in the context of the challenges we face as organisers of the ECS in Katowice in two years' time.

We met Lucien in the same building where the participants of the first edition of the EU TalentOn 2022 competition were finishing up their projects. This is a European Commission initiative aimed at young researchers from all over Europe, in particular professional researchers between the ages of 21 and 35. The 104 participants were divided into teams of four. The task was to prepare the best scientific, innovative solution to one of the five problems identified by the European Union as key issues for the 2030 time frame. These problems were grouped into five missions: 1) climate change adaptation, 2) cancer prevention and cancer care, 3) smart and climate-neutral cities, 4) soil fertility restoration, and 5) water and ocean environmental restoration.

Representatives from each team presented the results of their efforts: on Friday 16 September in front of an audience, and on Saturday 17 September in front of an expert committee. On Friday, when we were in the audience, they had just one minute to do so; the day after, they had three minutes. Interestingly, the audience chose the best proposals within each mission by means of... applause (a special apparatus measured the intensity of the applause — a bit like in the popular Polish TV show from the 1990s ‘Od przedszkola do Opola’, and the winning teams received prizes of €500.

The verdict of the expert committee, on the other hand, was announced at a gala held on Saturday in the main concert hall of the municipal auditorium. There, the best projects received prizes of €8,000 (the names of winners can be found on the European Commission website). There was also a Grand Prize (also €8,000) for the best non-categorised solution — this went to the Soilfix team, the winners selected within the soil fertility restoration mission.

Henri Lenferink, mayor of Leiden, and Anna Panagopoulou, Director of the European Commission's European Research Area & Innovation unit, attended the ceremony. During the gala, it was also announced that the next edition of EU TalentOn will take place in 2024 in Katowice, and the symbolic ticket was collected from the Dutch representatives by Justyna Szostek-Aksamit, executive director of the Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE, and Małgorzata Poszwa, Spokesperson of the University of Silesia, coordinator of the 2024 competition.

The final highlight of our stay in Leiden was a visit to the university botanical garden, where on Saturday evening the 'Night of Discoveries' (Dutch: 'Nacht van Ontdekkingen') took place, an event similar to the 'Night of Biologists' at the University of Silesia or the 'Night of Scientists' at the Silesian University of Technology, but conducted largely outdoors. There we met Prof. Pedro Russo, a Portuguese astronomer working at the university's observatory located in the botanical garden. Prof. Russo was a guest of the fifth edition of the Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE.

The Netherlands is yet another country we went to in order to observe the best in organising popular science events. We know that as a team responsible for organising the Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE, we should not feel at all inferior to science festivals in the UK, Western Europe, and Scandinavia, but we are constantly trying to improve our project and are already thinking hard about which things seen in Leiden could we also introduce in Silesia.

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