Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Helping Science Grow

Recently I had the privilege to spend three days (18 - 20 October 2012) at the event called 2nd Intensive School organized as part of the program called 100 Scientists into (secondary-high) Schools, by the Institute of Information Technology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (whoah, that's a lot of "of", isn't it? :3 ). The purpose of this event is to bring young people (high-school age) closer to the science, by showing them that it's not something they should be afraid of and that it's something that they can do themselves.

Many students and well as teachers from nearby (the whole Moravskoslezk√Ĺ region) high schools went to this event to learn something new and meet with some Czech scientists, who presented their research and inventions to inspire them, I myself had two presentations there and it was my pleasure to (hopefully) help to inspire other young people as myself.

The whole event took place at the faculty of Philosophy of the Ostrava University, quite a nice, but old building decorated with sculptures of ancient philosophers and similarly themed carvings on the walls. The whole complex was rather like a maze, so it took me a little while to get my bearings and evoked the memories of the Minotaur from the Greek mythology, which is actually quite fitting if you consider the focus of the faculty.

I already had a presentation at the 1st intensive school in different region before, but that was just half-day event for me. This time, I was there for the whole event, whole three days. First, because I had two presentations this time, the first and the last day and second, because I was making a documentary of the whole thing, so they can use it on their website and also because it's fun.

The whole event started with registration, followed by a lunch. What a nice way to start something - by filling your tummy! Of course, it was followed by the initial presentation, where students were welcomed and introduced to this unconventional educational program and motivated to think out of the box. I had a chance to listen to the whole presentation, although I was sneaking around the room with the camera, trying to get as many shots as possible from various angles, so the documentary video looks good, it was followed by nice presentation about evolutionary algorithms, which actually mentioned a lot of stuff from biology and bunch of other areas as well.

What I found a bit problematic though was the floor, because it creaked terribly when I moved around to change the filming location and I wanted to disturb the presentation as little as possible, but hopefully the sound got lost in the rest of background audience sounds. The breaks between the presentations were also enjoyable, because nice food tables were prepared for everyone, serving fresh fruits and pastry and also students started debating with the presenting scientists. Of course, what was the beauty of the whole event was that the debates weren't only in the breaks between presentations, but also during the presentations themselves. It wasn't one way presentation, the students weren't just passive listeners, they were active and asked questions and talked about the topic with others.

In the evening, there was one last, relatively short presentation about raut etiquette and dinner followed by social event, where students, teachers and organizers introduced themselves shortly and their interests. As the introductions were nearing the end, I started bubbling with slight nervosity but also an excitement, because my introduction was coming up. My introduction was actually a presentation about Self-education, because I recently decided to leave college and continue educating myself, because I've been doing so for a long time already and college was slowing me down, as you could read in my other posts.

But the moment I started talking, I forgot about everything else and just focused on my presentation, which went quite smoothly and was followed by a plethora of questions even an addition from the director of the Institute of Information Technology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic (phew that's a long name again) who was visiting the event personally. The event ended quite early though, some time around 20:30, although it was already dark, which was quite peculiar, as some of the halls of the faculty we had to walk through to get out were immersed in darkness.

Accommodation was already arranged for everyone and paid from the project's fund (meaning it was free for all participants, as well as everything else) in quite luxurious Imperial Ostrava hotel nearby. What surprised me was how similar was actually the room arrangement to the Marriot hotel in Pittsburgh where I was during the Intel ISEF 2012. After getting things ready for tomorrow (moving the recorded data from the camera to an external harddrive and charging both batteries) I went to sleep.

The feeling of luxury was only exacerbated by the breakfast at the hotel in the morning, with classy personnel and tables full of various food, including my favorite mini-corn. The director of the Institute of IT of the Academy of Sciences actually choose to sit to me at the breakfast and talk a bit more about the self-education topic I started the day before at the even. I felt a little bit awkward as I'm not very good with super-etiquette stuff and I didn't want to come out as some kind of brute, but hopefully it was all fine and not so serious.

During friday, there were four presentations in total, by various Czech scientists. What I liked about the whole thing was that they were picked based on what they did, on something they created and invented, some even brought the inventions with them, which was quite attractive to the students, because they could try it on their own. Because there were always two presentations running at once, in parallel, I had to run back and forth between them to record enough material from both, so I didn't get to hear them whole.

One scientists created a device to measure the speed of brain response to visual stimuli, which the students could try out, another studied the growth of children and showed students how easy they can use data from the parents to determine if the height of the child is deviating from what it should be genetically and if it needs to be treated somehow. Another presentation was about the nanoworld and how very small structures could be mapped and visualized and even showed how students can make their own, large replica of the microscope that uses the same principle from everyday items - piece of lego, magnet, a piece of clay, CD disc and laser pointer, while team of two other scientists talked about a method they developed that could predict a cardiac arrest even years before it actually happens.

The whole day was packed and in the evening, students got time to make their own projects. They were given cartons of paper, colorful markers and other tools and they could start creating. The projects were fictional, quickly made in a few hours, but everyone was very enthusiastic and the atmosphere was great, as students spread around and worked actively on their ideas, although it was already dark outside and it was friday. Once they were done, each team (or a single person) had 3 minutes to present his project before the fictional Grant Agency, which was composed from actual scientists who were presenting their own inventions earlier. Some were good at presenting, some not that good and quite nervous (but they'll learn! That was the whole purpose of it), but most importantly, it was quite a fun and a lot of laugh. It was also quite long, so I got to the hotel around midnight and went to sleep around 2 am, since I needed to prepare my presentation for tomorrow as well as the camera.

Friday started nicely with the 8 projects that the committee picked, interleaved with some jokes, followed by a presentation of one psychologist about conflicts. The last part of the program was the Expo Science, where three people - students, presented their own projects and inventions that already went through the national or  two international science fairs and one of these three projects was of course mine - Weird Processing Unit - changing the way processors and computers work from the ground up.

What slightly surprised me after I finished my presentation was the lack of questions (just one), although that might be caused by the fact that I actually incorporated questions people asked before into the presentation itself, so I probably already answered the most obvious questions that people might've thought of. Once the last presentation ended, every participant got their certificate and went home.

Of course, I stayed a bit longer, to wrap all things up and talk with the organizers a bit more. The sight of the the place being empty again, after crawling with students for a few days was quite interesting, somewhat reminding me of a calmness after a storm. A storm of creativity and science that is. I waited for the rest of the organizers to come back from lunch, packed my stuff and because a lot of food was actually left from the event, I could take some of it (meaning, how much I could fit in my bag) home for others.

Looking back at it, it was very fun event and in the short three days (well two and half) a lot of things happened and I think everyone learned a lot of things there and I'm myself happy that I could contribute to this and share some of my knowledge and passion with other people, in order to help science grow and spread to more young minds.

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