Highlights from the International Workshop organized in Centro Fermi of Rome, 18-19 May 2017.

Last week I was lucky to attend to the annual international conference held at the Enrico ‘Fermi Center’ in Rome. The Institute of Physics has proved to be a symbol and an extraordinary place for Italian research, for scientific promotion and knowledge in general. A creative environment for the ability to combine individual skills and a scientific, political, and social milieu in the years when discoveries and innovations in Italy enabled, alongside scientific progress, a cultural progress capable of being perceptible, broad and powerful.

The Center is close at the Institute of Physics of Via Panisperna, completely renewed and upcoming home to an interactive exhibition entirely dedicated to the charismatic figure of physicist Enrico Fermi. Well, this adjective is even reductive if you remember how he managed to involve a group of brilliant young students – Emilio Segré, Bruno Pontecorvo, Edoardo Amaldi and Ettore Majorana (all of whom became famous scientists and Physics Education referents) – forming a working group committed to scientific research who would achieve great discoveries in the field of nuclear physics.


i ragazzi di via panisperna

The young colleagues of Ettore Majorana who worked with Enrico Fermi (right) at the Institute of Physics at Via Panisperna in Rome. From the left: D’Agostino, Segré, Amaldi and Rasetti.

And let me remember his words, with reference to The Future of Nuclear Physics in J. W. CroninFermi Remembered’, to make wise choices about nuclear technology.

Some of you may ask, what is the good of working so hard merely to collect a few facts which will bring no pleasure except to a few long-haired professors who love to collect such things and will be of no use to anybody because only few specialists at best will be able to understand them? In answer to such question[s] I may venture a fairly safe prediction. History of science and technology has consistently taught us that scientific advances in basic understanding have sooner or later led to technical and industrial applications that have revolutionized our way of life. It seems to me improbable that this effort to get at the structure of matter should be an exception to this rule. What is less certain, and what we all fervently hope, is that man will soon grow sufficiently adult to make good use of the powers that he acquires over nature

Something very actual nowadays and capable to show his sensibility for society. Yes, society, that appears to be the subject of this annual workshop, focused on the role of Museum Exhibition in the field of the New Physics, around nucear particles or newest medical therapies for tumors that cannot be removed because too dangerous, up to the knowledge of our body, that we can understand and imagine more realistically thanks to ‘Corporea‘ science exhibition, organized now at ‘Città della Scienza’ in the historical city of Naples. Vittorio Silvestrini was the founder of CDS in 1987 because Italy should have a Science Center as the main ones present in Europe and America. A place to explain and show how scientific knowledge must belong to people and the whole society. CDS is a foundation and they communicate their innovations describing themselves as both an incubator of start-ups and an exhibition milieu. The spokesperson stress the importance of the laboratory/educational area to give the visitor a more engaged and sensory experience – as to say – in science.

The elements able to catch the attention of the visitors are all sort of immersive videos, virtual reality experiences, games, multimedia, laboratories, experiments and visitors curiosity, providing a full experience that involves an audience of all ages, leading to the discovery of the human body as a holistic system.

This idea of complexity refer to different single parties, that can ensure the constant flow of interactions between tiny parts and the whole environment (inner and outer) as first requirement of the “right working” in a dynamic body.

The process of teaching for children and adolescents is supported through formal and informal strategies, but also the adults are a target. They need to be engaged too, of course as multipliers for their children, acquaintances at work and family members. He says that the museum acts as a company in effect, that must fit in some parameters of objectives and expenses to face, although its image, in the first instance, is the one of a ‘no- profit’ identity and therefore having an internal precise organization and differentiation is crucial to have and maintain by time the expected high success.

One of the main objectives of the CDS is to involve interpretations and science education, including some dedicated areas that allow the scientists to communicate their work to the people. There is not magic formula to gain public recognition, but Corporea had in two months (it started in March 2017) a huge participation. Perhaps its first advantage is that it is an interactive exhibition capable to communicate the bio-medicine traits in a simple and sensory way to the public. This is easily recognized if we think that people are more interested to what regards themselves more, so what can be more interesting than looking after a webcam allowing a friendly and safe visit within our muscles, bones, tendons and brain microcircuits?

The CDS benefit also from the FabLab opening, thanks to a constant partnerships development with companies and professional in the field of communication. Moreover there is a FabLab area active in schools that were involved in the projects of CDS, now analyzing the usefulness of the personal smartphone for the science education of children. In other words, the aim of this national scientific center is to remind people that it is important to give new light on the global and interactive side of science, starting by its boundaries with society and giving a multidisciplinary focus on an even strongest network of partners.

One of them is the Middle East, represented with a new Exhibition organized in Palestine and a summer school organized in partnership with the middle east economic partners, that this year will be at its third edition.

Now is the turn of the speech of Dr. Derek Gillespie – Head of Skills and Engagement of British STFC. He starts to show its passion for the work he done in UK, giving us details on the role of partnership to allow all sort of multiple engagement strategies capable to inspire children, friends, families during the visit of a city and local exposition/exhibit around science.

People respond immediately to stories if they walk through adversities, and what better than experience the story behind the particular object creation or the scientist life, personal and professional commitment for the quality of what she/he does? Perhaps we can be inspired, thinking and remembering this astonishing stories around science and effective meaningful discoveries, translating this willingness on what we need do, daily, without too much attention or particular social care…

I’m glad that he recognized that people who work in communication seems to be enthusiastic and optimistic…Well, actually they must be, because they imagine a change and they vote to this ethical change their creative and imaginative skills translate them in professional writing and planned engaging activities based on expected quantitative results. Am I right?

I think he is true when he says that doing a small number of things well is perhaps the best way to pursue some good outcomes and to make a change in the audience. Nowadays there is the need to change the mindset for physics. The interest of upcoming years will be focused to reach students from 9 up to 13 years old because it is important to support them by tools. But which kind of tools are effectively the key source of good results in their engagement and scientific reasoning? Well, for this time I am sorry to delude your attention, but this remain an open question that requires the efforts of the world of educational research and a more effective ministerial dialogue around the science curricula for this sensitive age. What I see here is the need to face the questions of the children based on what is seriously interesting for them in the life time where fun and friendship have the first place and science is thought many times as a subject that is interesting at the beginning but then with more mathematical specialization became something boring, too challenging and a relevant matter for the most endowed. Hey, wait a minute…

So, what I am missing about the “trendy” side of being Nerds? 😉

In summary, to organize an activity in this educational domain, facilitators, scientists and teachers must work together to give their support and particular knowledge to develop parameters that have to be organized and perfectibility judgement by everyone of them, looking for an interdisciplinary management.

  • Input
  • Outputs
  • Reach
  • Outcomes
  • Processes
  • Understanding what is done

Children need to be evaluated by what they understand, what they imagine and what they propose us (the responsible of science communication, education and planning) as focus of interest. This is a very important point to take care of, as a bottom-up informational process that can have a magnetic impact on the whole organization of the scientific activity managed for a target.

Some reflections rises from his talk. Some of them fit in the development of a strategy with an evolution approach, for the successful benefits in both projects. The constant need to be supportive and involving for your audience, cause the public need to be more engaged and more conscious on what is perceived and seen. To make something relevant you must arrange the right partnership and do not wait to much to develop it, as projects on science communication need to face more priorities and “dark” sides of general comprehension and involvement. Another thing on projects is that who is responsible for the objectives and overall planning need to pay attention to what will be public feedback’s and willingness to learn from scientists, highlighting the diversities and culture behind their views and priorities.

Moreover, you must find opportunities to pilot your approaches in ‘safe’ environments with critical backgrounds. How we describe things in science, and focus on stories that are relevant because they do not fall in simply talking: they underline the sacrifice and the beauty to face complexity by daily work efforts.

Afterwards, when I am reflecting on all of these truths, I finally came up with a key word. This one is referred to the first things to have in mind when you develop a partnership: the reflecting need to have precisely clear “what” motivate the organization you want to work with.

This is the first thing to do;  and if you do not think to trust me face life rules.

Then was the turn of the responsible of Media Communication of INAF (The National Institute of Astrophysics). He shows us their media pages, from the Youtube channel (when one of their videos is daily available), the Instagram and twitter account. Plus, there is also a mobile application free to download. What they are more proud of is the presence of more than 7000 articles regarding INAF, the producing of Docs and specific Broadcasting in Italy. This flow is allowed by their high skills in astrophysics, the ability to be relevant by time, precise and able to talk simply in a trustworthy attitude towards journalists and the press in general. In retrospective, what they aim to change is the massive production in Italian language, as for the poor attitude to translate documents in English and therefore increase the number of their viewers by social networks that are English speakers. A topic to work more in future will be the effort to communicate the fascinating side of astrophysics, thanks to 3-D simulations and modelling in physics, convinced that this perspective can allow retention thanks to the better perform allowed for users.

Luisa Cifarelli, the director of the Fermi Center, speaks gently and clearly to us. The audience felt her charisma and security by the firm tone used and the capability to express idea in the most clear way. Some key elements of her speech were the outreach thinking on the motivation and the interest of the society for the scientific material and issues proposed, that is the most important thing to manage. Monitor and notice the issues that the newsletter want to communicate, so to analyses its impact. When in the meanwhile Facebook and Twitter needs attentions from Physics Center and Academia Departments, because even having the right pictures for the Instagram account can allow the communicator to gain or lose the audience very fast (this is the main problem, that with pics you must be very good at!). The speech finished with the warning to pay attention on the interest of the community and the attractive side of Montecarlo simulation (that usually are something boring in books) when you publish a scientific paper…

Emma Sanders, responsible for the Microcosm Exhibition at CERN in Meyrin, talked on the techniques they used to enhance the effectiveness for the general public. Some highlights on her talk are that ones below:

  • Who visits Microcosm?
  • Why the need to provide the material on multiple languages? and why to address both tourists and school visits curiosities on Particle physics (taking in account that who visit the exhibition is defined by different ages)
  • Recognizing that 39% of annual visitors are linked to the workers of CERN or they themselves study Physics and are curious about the authenticity and real ways to communicate the activities made by researchers. Which are the tools and the elements that can boost the exhibitions attractiveness?
  • Who is the common scientist that work at CERN? Some emotional and personal aspect of the person, before the scientist, have to be showed.
  • Describing the microcosm where scientists (physicists and engineers) speaks to the general public using their own voice to speak different languages.
  • CMS experiment recreation putting attention to the technological complexity of its devices and high technology sub-parts to underline the link with techno scientific leading progress.
  • Discovery of new particles and new machines
  • Increase the Guides number, even if they are volunteers at CERN, but for visitors it is very important to have a contact with people instead of the most attractive interactive video recording.  This aspect is what matters the most for the general public. It is important to transmit the enthusiasm that scientists have as persons with aspirations and need of social interest on what they try to pursue with fundamental Research.
  • Show the diversity and the professional/carrier level of scientist is important. The audience need to see how many different varieties of people are all together at CERN working for an higher and collective purpose.
  • At the beginning of the exhibition, every employee says who he/she is, the field of studies and what they are doing at CERN as job. This aspect is important to show the warmth of the person and to experiment ways to communicate: dancing, looking around waiting for some questions or attention of the visitors, smiling and showing a nice endeavor towards the potential contact eyes that the exhibition aspire to inspire. Sorry for the game words:-) I like that too much.
  • Deaf people need to be engaged too. Science is for everyone and people see the effort and help of deaf physicist of CERN that communicate their research with sign language.
  • Everything done is supposed to be shared and many events are going on with different audiences of young.
  • There is the effort to communicate the process of design the technology and the fundamental research that can be done outside the Universities.
  • Another project is to find a place where all the exhibitions can be explained and communicated to visitors (this is a project in work in progress).

The speech of Vincenzo Napolano, Representative of INFN Communication Office was entitled ‘Why make stories about science’?

Napolano started a reflection on the target and the perspective to be chosen to reach one specific target. For example the latest exhibition Science Blunders (Balle di Scienza) organized by INFN reflect on how the errors can be interesting to underline the “work in progress” that characterize physics (in particular) and science (in general) process. As history teaches us, withing centuries, the best discoveries were made by chance. The scientists, in first person, will tell their stories to describe their view, personal paths and vision on science.

Another exhibit, called ‘The Virtual Men, the Physics explores the body‘ was organized in the historical Palazzo Blu of Pisa to engage society on a very specific area of the Physics research, using the society interest for the body and its balances or complexities to fascinate people for what is beyond the visible side of the body material (as a voyage by tendons, bones, blood circulations, neuron circuits and general system complexity) showing the potential of the technologies used to address its secrets and mysteries.

What about the exploit of the space at your disposal?

Well, you can transform the content that must be enjoyable for the people and it can be maximized to increase the interactive side with the visitor. Staring from a single touch, you can see the whole story projected (developed linearly by familiar words, searching for key word able to underline clearness) in front of you to, reflecting and take your time to build your image of what physics represents for our life progress and ethical societal values (efforts, vision, progress, pressures to get results, etc)

There are also sensors and videos that can be animated, this is the way by which the environment is designed for the user. The exhibition uses the natural elements to increase engagement (for example the viscosity of water to explain motion to allow the visitor experiment with the area around him, to develop a more evolved perception of the space near us and our proprioception, using reactive physical particles reactions or a projection thanks to various kinds of light able to create a very particular texture in all the exhibit area at disposition) and the imagination for this newness.

Letting the visitor have a high degree of freedom to play, to give its contributions, increase the level of curiosity and motivation to understand better what is being saw and “felt” within the different areas of the exhibit, hoping that afterwards this person can communicate what saw, even afterwards, in different daily life environments… these are what Napolano talked about.

And if you are interested on the history of science, there is the possibility to look for footage and original documents to explain the history of physics that made famous Italy all over the world, thanks to another exhibition showing the original documents of Galileo Galilei. They are disposed in the most accessible expectation of the public, through the info graphics and an overall approach of interactivity.

What came afterwards? A nice talk with the speakers and a promenade in the beautiful Via Nazionale, right in the center of the capital. Thinking on what and how I can do with this knowledge to focus on society and young participation to  the rich and dynamic world of STEM.

Have a nice day:-)







What form of reasoning can allow to set priorities?

This week I’ve dedicated some thoughts to recognize some characteristics of the priorities needed to set up the simple and beautiful frame for a well-grounded scientific theory.

The general idea is this one: if a scientific theory is a complex interlocking of concepts, observations, definitions, presuppositions, experimental results and connections to other theories, no single fact is going to be crucial for the survival of this theory. We perceive that here there is something missing, unclear, stated as too hypothetical…

The reason is that this “simple” claim allow – afterwards – an indicative increase of errors and misconceptions. So let’s reasoning by steps, slowly, and I will promise to try to do not leave much of the theoretic behind.

An aim of a scientist is to understand nature, right? In order to do that a gathering and interpretation of data is needed. But how does a scientist reason? For sure he/she is able to follow regularities, after precise observations allowed by high technologies and a ‘reliable method’ used to select the range of relevant data to be registered in a “software” afterwards. Then, after that and further analysis and discussion between peers scientists can arrive up to an interpretation of Nature and its features.

Within this proceedings I found a commonality with the philosopher of science that works to find – by knowledge interrelation – key elements to select one or more between competing theories, referring only to valid evidence. Namely, the ones who made the history of sciences were able to construct explanations with desirable properties, using inductive and deductive logic to determining the truth or falsehood of a claim. Now I’m referring to the empirical method that is founded upon experience and observation.

Empirical observations are a necessary ingredient of science and one might even say that empirical results are the first bricks upon which scientific thinking is built. But I am afraid to say that science enterprise cannot be built on empirical results alone. There is an important problem with basing scientific conclusion solely on empirical facts, namely, the one of induction. Better known as ‘inductive logic’ it means that we can conclude that something will always happen because it has happen before (I know that I must stay near the espresso machine because if I leave it alone more than 3 minutes I will burn my coffee and made the kitchen a mess). This logic is at the core of any attempt to prove a conclusion by finite empirical observation and this conclusion is general, it does not regard only me and/or my household familiarity:-). But I figured out that a problem with this reasoning still remains, because the fact that something has always happened before does not insure that it will always happen.

At the opposite pole of though is the doctrine of rationalism. The main exponent was René Descartes who says the world that our human senses can be fooled, therefore empirical information cannot be a secure foundation for science. Actually, yes, everyone can agree that optics and optical illusions shows us that we can seriously mislead. So, if the evidence of our senses can’t be trusted, what else can? The answer is one thing that theorist called ‘deductive logic’. In other words, Mathematics: the surest foundation of knowledge because science should be based on our minds, not our senses. Rationalism, take to its extreme, proclaims that truth can be apprehended directly by our minds. To achieve that task people should use proper thought processes, identifying manifestly true first principles and deduct their consequences; without referring to empirical inputs. Thanks to the human potential to learn, few people still accept this extreme view.

The official marriage between empiricism and mathematical logic paths was completed in Vienna (around 1930) by a group pf philosophers who developed a viewpoint called logical positivism. This one is based on the evidence that only direct and observable objects or events should be considered valid scientific subject matter. The task of science, in this view, is to ascertain that logical relationship between all of them can be captured by observations, because this is the first rule of positive knowledge.

This theory allow by its clarity and precision the “positive” relationships and rules that many philosopher and scientists were searching for, captured by the evidence that nothing can be more clear and unambiguous than mathematical logic. And following this principle, empirical facts are certainly a firm foundation upon which build scientific organisms.

Then, a problem rise, and it dealt with the fact that in science many things are not directly observable. To address this issue a focus on “rules of correspondence” was a requisition that every logical positivist must face between theoretical entities and empirical observations. As long as a concept could be connected to observations by a set of rigid rules the concept was legitimate, otherwise it will lifted out.

A similar kind of thinking can be found in the movement based on ‘operational definition’ of a scientific concept that state and describe all the operations done by a measurement. For example, Newton defined time with a verbal statement that he regarded as self-evident, but that was operationally limited. In comparison, Einstein’s redefinition of time in terms of the operations with clocks that are instruments needed to measure time, turned out to be an advantage to write about measurements and to have a common reference about.

P. W. Bridgman was the first who formulate the idea of an operational definition. I do not know how much his background as experimental physicist with a strong philosophical interest influence his thoughts, but for sure there is a strong analytical background around the claim that “any concepts that couldn’t be defined operationally should be considered scientifically meaningless”. I am the idea that this spirit of operationalism have an intrinsic correspondence with positivism that dominate the scene of the most relevant philosophy of science for decades.

Philosophers heavily influenced by physics adopted a different line of thought: you can use mathematics to predict how the events follow one from another. Solving equations, in the right order and pursuing a clear methodology, can be the way to predict how the first event determines the occurrence of the second where causality have only an anthropomorphic lineaments. The situations became even more intricate if I take in account the problems of knowledge, where there branch of philosophy responsible for its analysis is better known as epistemology.

Based on some questions that can go from the mechanisms and the ways used to acquire and construct knowledge of the world, affirm that we know something, insure that our knowledge is true and how it is related to things themselves there is one branch that go undisturbed: Epistemology. It hunt an dig within the roots of analysis, reasoning of objects and phenomena that emerge in our life, and that are in the meanwhile the fundamental principles of every science.

Next time I will talk more about the validation of theories, because it requires more attention that the one I can give to it today.

Have a nice day:-)







What about ‘Science is Change’

Today I want to write a bit about my inner hope for the upcoming event of ‘Science is Change‘ organized from the 11th to the 14th of May in the beautiful Auditorium della Musica of Rome. The theme of this year is change. Very inspiring. Change is a metaphor of power, force, and the symbol of wisdom. Why so? Well, let’s remember what British naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin teaches us: the one who can survive at natural selection is not the strongest animal species or the smartest one, it is the most ready who can face adaptation. The one that is just ready to change and adapt to the renewed environmental – inner and outer, I must say – conditions. That is the being that will live, spreading its own genes by new and adapted off-springs.

The word of change is a key-word. It does not only represent the nature surrounding us, because it describe the inner reality of the society in which we live now. It is able to depict our inner self and emotions: all of us need to face change (in life, work and with best friends) and depending on how we face it we’ll let emerge something new, or even the development of a barrier to protect ourselves from its features. Actually the second is fair more common than the first one. You can agree with that.

At first glance, all the science world is characterized by change: people who deal with it start their days moved by a constant search for answers to mankind problems that need an high level production of discoveries, inventions and innovations so to have the chance to change our lifestyles. It is also true that science plays a key role in helping people cope with change, beginning with the transformations that characterize our cosmopolitan society: first of all climate change and the risks that policy will affect science financing and research because of some collateral “pressures” or priorities. Economy is one of them, even if its profit are connected to scientific progress. Strange liaison, right?

The truth is that Science is a matter of all of us, even if we do not understand firstly what the responsible of its beauty are doing all days, moved and afflicted by inner technophobia that does not let us imagine or desire any expectations. In fact, I invite you to tell me that is not true, lot of us think that research is a sort of partial dawdling, defined mostly by a pleasant attendance in biomedical labs of national foundations, when the results appears to be very little or sporadic in time compared to the huge amount of money invested. And if we are the main investors and we do not understand how these money are used, well all sort pf problems rise.

I am sure that lot of scientific bloggers well-framed what I’m talking about.

It is very simple say that scientists are lucky people that spent their days making simulations or developing new software that maybe will let us have better technologies in a word. A place that we know (daily!) facing brutal changes, both in the societal side than in the environmental one, right? But this seems to be not our priority because science can have a potential or an impact for society but to get all these dynamics of rehearsal, delineation and development of societal identity in relation to science would require efforts, critique sense, long and attentive studies.

So, what do we have to do? Well, due to time reason and worse (we are saying that all the times!) working conditions, the better thing to do is to leave only to this caste of scientists the efforts to understand the mysteries of diseases, space nature, microelectronics, robotics, let them try to create intelligent algorithms, better models for climate change predictions and new cures for cancer. Yes, it really seems to be the best thing to do…

Why? the reason is pretty simple and crystal clear: we have the perception that we cannot (or we would not) understand the domain of science. We are not able to scrutinized it because we cannot evoke the universal laws of physics and symmetry that can allow the wiser view of the role of scientific research for our society. Am I right? In fact, it is also true that scientists cannot work alone, they need a social construction of their scientific authority that allow them continue on these efforts.

They need us, because we are all members of the society that needs to desire progress, we are the referents to whom all these technologies and research aims are directed to.
I hope that this event can allow a sort of reflection to people who will participate, bring their children to science labs organized by enthusiasts educators and ask themselves questions about the different lessons or theater spectacles of ‘Science is Change’.

When people reflect upon their lack of scientific knowledge, something happen: awareness is spreading as a flower during the spring time.

The flower of critique sense and the hard (or majestic) path of knowledge that will allow to redevelop this status of moral and ethical values around science and its enterprise, develop around and for all of us, as unified society. Rich in contrasts, I agree, but is by all sort of diversities that life begin and continue to give us the change to made our own reflections.

Have a great day!