Supporting UK and Hungarian Industry Collaborations
Two overarching objectives of Europlanet are to foster industry-academic collaboration and to widen participation from under-represented states in Europe and around the world. Last week, there were opportunities to support both these aims at the UK Space Conference in Belfast and an event at the Hungarian Embassy in London.
At the UK Space Conference from 21-23 November, Europlanet shared a stand with the Hungarian Space Cluster (Hunspace). Over the course of the meeting, we met with many members of the UK and international community, in particular with early career researchers. We were particularly delighted to meet and take part in discussion sessions with the space clusters that represent the different space communities across the UK. Plenary sessions featured discussions on exploration of our Solar Ssytem and the technical challenges involved.
On Friday 24 November, we were privileged to be hosted by the Hungarian Embassy in London for a meeting of the UK and Hungarian Space Communities. We were welcomed by Orsolya Ferencz, Ministerial Commissioner Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and by the Hungarian Ambassador to London, Ferenc Kumin. Nigel Mason (Europlanet 2024 RI Coordinator) and Zsolt Fulop (Chair of the research infrastructure committee in Hungary) kicked off proceedings. Tomas Barzy (Admatis) gave an overview of the Hunspace cluster’s membership, remit and history. Presentations by Hungarian and UK space industry and organisations were followed by a round-table discussion. Many thanks to Gábor Takács-Carvalho and all the team at the Hungarian Embassy for their hospitality.
Full reports on both events will be published soon.
Results of Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme 2023
The results have been announced of a call by the Europlanet Society to support funding proposals of €1000 to €5000 from its Regional Hubs, Committees and Working Groups and the Society Membership. Five projects have been supported in 2023:
French Hub proposal: Careers workshop at French Planetary Science Congress (€4900)
The French Planetary Science Congress will be held in Nantes in July 2024 conjointly with the French Astrobiology Society (SFE) and National Programme for Planetary Science (PNP), where two days will be devoted to astrobiology topics and two others to planetary science more generally. Funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme to support a one-day workshop devoted to early career researchers focussed on careers in planetary science, divided into talks from industry and academia about their diverse career paths, and workshops on topics such as “CV writing for industry”, “writing a good research grant”, a poster session in the afternoon will allow attendees to exchange with the invited speakers and other researchers at the conference. The whole event will be in French to maximise interaction between the masters and PhD students and the presenters.
Spain Portugal Hub proposal: Pro-Am occultations campaigns with a portable telescope (€3300)
Occultations of stars by small Solar System bodies provide relevant information about their atmosphere, rings, satellites and morphology. The most interesting results are usually obtained when several different chords of the same occultation event are gathered. Therefore, it is usually necessary to deploy different instruments across the predicted shadow path in order to maximise the probability of capturing relevant data.
Several members of the Sociedad Astronómica Granadina (an amateur astronomy group from the south of Spain) have collaborated in dozens of different ProAm occultation campaigns promoted by the IAA and other organizations, specially those involving transneptunian objects, Jupiter trojans and NEOs. Those campaigns usually involve traveling (sometimes thousands of kilometers) in order to correctly position the telescopes and auxiliary gear. To continue and improve collaborations, funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme to acquire a more powerful (but still portable) telescope to obtain occultation data of fainter stars.
Central Europe Hub proposal: Orionids 2023 (€1400)
Funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme to support “Orionids 2023”, a meteor astro-camp. During a weekend workshop that will take place in Banská Štiavnica, in central Slovakia, different astrophysicist and astronomers amateur will provide lectures about how to observe meteor showers and secondary meteor showers in a classical traditional way. This seminar will teach the participants how to be prepared theoretically for such an observation, what methodology (IMO) to use and how to practically observe a meteor shower in general. Afterwards, it will be given the knowledge of submitting the results in the IMO database. Another aim of the project is to teach a new lecturing team in order to maintain visual observation discipline, also nowadays in modern digital times. The plan for the future is to organize the observation of meteor showers at least 3 times a year. The best possibilities would be in Slovak dark sky parks or another convenient location. The expected number of participants of the Orionids 2023 is 12 with 4 lecturers. The first Orionids astro-camp is planned in Slovakia but international participants are also welcome
Central Europe Hub: Variable stars and exoplanet research meeting – support for international audience (€3060)
The Czech Variable stars meeting is traditionally organised by the Czech Astronomical Society, Variable stars and exoplanet section, association of professional and amateur astronomers predominantly from the Czech Republic, but also members from other european countries. This meeting has a long history, the last 54th meeting took place in November 2022 in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Average audience is between 50 and 100 participants, including online audience. Various topics with focus on pro-am research of variable stars and exoplanets are discussed. With the incresing number of international collaboration, there is a rise of international audience of the meeting. Last year’s meeting was also held in hybrid form. Funding was requested from the Europlanet Society to broaden focus of the meeting to the Central European international audience by formally dividing the meeting to consecutive international and Czech/Slovak sections, advertising the meeting on the European level and providing support for in-person participants – amateur astronomers and students. The support will comprise travel bursaries and support with translation of presentations and other material into English. Since 2021 there is also an student section in the form of a competition organised, where also students from other countries can participate.
Ireland-UK Hub: Europlanet Early-Career Networking at the British Planetary Science Conference 2024 (€4380)
The British Planetary Science Conference (BPSC) 2024 has been awarded by the UK Planetary Forum to Space Park Leicester (SPL). It will be held in June 2024 at Space Park and the adjacent National Space Centre in Leicester. Europlanet sponsorship was requested to raise awareness of society membership benefits in the UK. BPSC will start with a 1-day workshop for those new to the space and planetary science community, where experienced SPL engineers and project managers will lead examples of how space instruments and missions are developed. This will help facilitate wider access to new space exploration initiatives in the planetary and space science community, and is particularly focussed on connecting early-career researchers to new opportunities. The main 3-day part of the conference will consist of oral and poster sessions reflecting the range of topical planetary and space science activities in the UK, including results from sample return missions, Mars exploration, the Gas and Ice Giants, meteorites, Mercury. The main conference will also have an emphasis on careers and EDI, with input on careers in the space industry. On the final day will include a community consultation day with UKSA, STFC, and other interested stakeholders like Europlanet.
South East Europe Hub: Terrestrial Analogues for Solar System Studies Conference (€5000)
Co-funding was requested from the Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme for an already designed planetary-themed conference to be held in Greece, in the island of Milos, during the summer of 2024. The conference has both scientific and policy aspects, and aims to bring together planetary scientists from all over the world, with an emphasis on students and early career participants from Southeastern Europe, in a location of great relevance and interest for planetary geologic topics – the island of Milos. This region has experienced young volcanism and tectonism (Mars, Pluto), has undergone atmospheric shaping of volcanic deposits, and carving into yardangs (Mars, Titan, Venus, Pluto), and has current hydrothermal and fumarolic activity (Venus, Io, exoplanets). The conference will offer a combination of lectures, science discussions and filed trips, as well as policy and industry related discussions in a dedicated session. Planetary scientists with experience in field geology will interact with those who typically do modeling or laboratory studies, furthering the cross communication of topics and improving the research approach for all participants to lead to a better understanding.
EPEC: Early Career Activities at DPS-EPSC 2023 (€900)
EPEC has organised a programme of events for early career researchers at the joint DPS-EPSC meeting in October 2023 in San Antonio, Texas. The planned activities include a short course on mental health, a social event, mentoring for first-time attendees and the EPEC general assembly. In addition, EPEC will have a booth to help early careers find their way around and inform them about our work.
Report on 54th Conference on Variable Star Research
Meeting report by Felip Walter of the Variable Stars and Exoplanet Section of the Czech Astronomical Society.
The 54th Variable Star Conference took place from 25-27 November in hybrid-format in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and online. The meeting was very positively received by both national and international audiences. We had 50 in-person participants from the Czech Republic and five international guests. We also had 12 Czech and 18 international online participants from as far afield as India, Brazil, UK, Ukraine and Iceland, as well as and other, closer European countries, including our neighbour, Slovakia.
Concerning planetary sciences, there was a lecture about the DART mission given by Petr Scheirich, as well as lectures about HST and JSWT photometric and spectroscopic observation of exoplanets by Angelos Tsiaras, and a presentation by Günter Wuchterl (in person) and Petr Kabáth (online from newly opened La Silla PLATOSpec telescope) about the ground component of the PLATO mission.
Yves Jongen, probably one of the most productive amateur observers of exoplanetary transits presented his work and received the very first Exoplanet Transit Prize from the Czech Astronomical Society ETD project. He has observed around 1500 individual transits during five years of activity.
Seven students (both high school and university students) presented their work in the student section. Marko Mesarč from Masaryk University, Brno received the prize for the presentation of his work on exoplanetary candidates photometry.
The meeting has surely supported pro-am and international collaboration, as everyone – and most importantly our young guests, the students of Czech high schools – used the opportunity to meet enthusiastic amateurs and professionals from the Czech Republic and abroad.
The Variable Stars Research meeting is the most important meeting organized by Variable Stars and Exoplanet Section of the Czech Astronomical Society. This year Planetarium Ostrava is a co-organizer providing its premises for this event.
This year meeting will assume hybrid form – both in person and online via ZOOM application, and will be held in Czech, Slovak and English languages. Friday there will be student section for high school and university students presenting their work, which will be organized as a contest where the best presenter will be recognized and receives price donated by the VSES CAS.
Papers from the meeting will be published in Open European Journal on Varible Stars, a electronic open peer reviewed journal issued by VSES CAS in cooperation with Masaryk University Brno, with indexation in SIMBAD database and Smithsonian/NASA’s ADS. Recordings of the talks will be made public on YouTube channel of VSES CAS and presentation files will be accessible in meeting program.
Download a unique educational tool, a comic book about the geomagnetic field and its importance for life on our Earth. The comic book is intended for primary school pupils. Once you get acquainted with the story of the geomagnetic field, play a board game designed for 1-4 players. You can download the game for free below, you will only need 4 game pieces and two dice.
Download the Comic Book and the board game free under the Creative Commons licence:
The comic book was created on the initiative of the staff of the Geophysical Institute Matěj Machek and Petr Brož in co-operation with David Píša from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics CAS. It was drawn by Karolina Kučerová (whose work you can watch in this video or here) and written by Lucie Lukačovičová. The board game was designed by Julie Nováková. The work can be freely downloaded and freely distributed under a Creative Commons license.
An opportunity to become the next Central Europe Hub chair. The Central Europe Hub was established in 2018 to promote planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovenian, Slovakian and wider European community, within the Europlanet Society.
Petr Brož (Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences) et al. 2021
Decades of space exploration reveal that Mars has been reshaped by volcanism throughout its history. The range of observed volcanic landforms shows that effusive and explosive eruptions have occurred, albeit unevenly in time and space.
In this paper:
We present an overview of explosive volcanism on Mars.
Evidence for explosive volcanism is less common than for effusive activity.
Still indications of explosive volcanism have been identified at various sites.
Explosive edifices are often different in shapes from their terrestrial analogues.
Explosive eruptions on Mars would behave differently from those on Earth.
Life Beyond Us unites scientists and science fiction authors
Life Beyond Us, a new anthology by the European Astrobiology Institute and Laksa Media, depicts the timeless quest for finding alien life in 22 science fiction stories and 22 short science essays and has just started its Kickstarter campaign. Its goal is to publish brilliant science fiction by authors such as Mary Robinette Kowal or Peter Watts and support science understanding and critical thinking.
Science fiction has always been inspired by science and inspired scientists in turn. Its power of imagination and use of narrative, as well as its popularity, make the genre especially suited for raising interest in science. Life Beyond Us aims to achieve this with a unique approach of merging together original science fiction stories revolving around astrobiology, written by world SF authors, and engaging essays by scientists tailored to each story’s topic, answering some burning questions and leaving some open for science yet to discover and science fiction to explore. The story-essay combination blends entertainment and scientific knowledge to arouse curiosity and a deeper interest in science, carrying the reader to the boundary between science and science fiction. Effective science communication and critical thinking support are more than essential in today’s world, and projects such as Life Beyond Us seek to fulfill these complex goals and entertain at the same time.
The book is edited by editor, author and scientist Julie Nováková, who co-leads the outreach working group of the European Astrobiology Institute (EAI), and the book’s publisher Laksa Media editors Lucas K. Law and Susan Forest, who produced award-winning anthologies such as Where The Stars Rise and The Sum of Us. A stellar line-up of authors are contributing stories to Life Beyond Us: Mary Robinette Kowal, Peter Watts, Gregory Benford, Tobias S. Buckell, Premee Mohamed, Julie E. Czerneda, Stephen Baxter, Malka Older, Deji Bryce Olukotun, Geoffrey A. Landis, Bogi Takács, Simone Heller, Rich Larson, Eugen Bacon, Eric Choi, DA Xiaolin Spires, Arula Ratnakar, Tessa Fisher, Valentin Ivanov, Tomáš Petrásek, G. David Nordley and Lucie Lukačovičová.
A Kickstarter campaign for the book has just started, offering backers the book in both print and e-book formats and exclusive editions, videochat sessions with authors, editors and scientists, virtual tours of labs and observatories, story critiques, naming a character after the backer and other rewards. Stretch goals to include SF stories in translation and open submissions are planned.
Life Beyond Us is the second astrobiological SF anthology by EAI, following Strangest of All, the “proof-of-concept” e-book anthology of reprint SF stories and original essays by Julie Nováková. With over 6,000 downloads, positive reception and use as a science teaching material, the book showed the merit of such outreach approach. EAI was founded in 2019 with the aims to support research in astrobiology across Europe and beyond, and promote education and outreach by organizing summer schools, supporting the AbGradE forum for students and creating unique outreach projects such as Life Beyond Us. With NASA’s Perseverance on Mars, ESA’s Rosalind Franklin planned to launch soon and other missions to shed light on life in the universe on the way, astrobiology is a booming scientific field bound to create general interest, and SF is a perfect tool to bring it closer and let people feel the curiosity and joy of discovery at the core of science and SF.
A pocket atlas of Mars has been published that uses geographic techniques developed for terrestrial maps to reveal a wealth of information about the surface of the Red Planet, as well as its climate and cloud cover. The atlas is being presented this week at the 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.
The 84-page atlas is currently available in English, Hungarian and Czech, and will be available in a digital format later this year. The atlas, which has been developed for use in astronomy clubs and schools, was funded by the Europlanet Society through its Central European Hub.
The main part of the atlas consists of a series of double spreads showing each of the 30 cartographic quadrangles into which the surface of Mars has been divided by the US Geological Survey. The landforms created by lava, wind, water, and ice are shown separately on a topographic base map, highlighting features such as dune fields, mountain peaks, volcanic calderas, caves, ancient dried-up lakes and deltas, and fault lines.
For the first time in a published Mars atlas, climate maps are included, which show 13 climatic zones with boundaries defined by combining seasonal temperature and frost data. A series of climate diagrams show the variation in temperature through the martian year for each of the zones. In addition, a weather map shows the temperature at ground level across the western hemisphere of Mars at the two annual solstices.
The atlas also includes an albedo map, derived from data from Mars Express and Mars Global Surveyor, which shows the amount of sunlight reflected from the surface, the frequently cloudy regions and the maximum area covered by the seasonal caps of frozen carbon dioxide and water ice at the martian poles.
The map editor, Henrik Hargitai of the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest and former chair of the Commission on Planetary Cartography of the International Cartographic Association, said: “The maps in the atlas are manually edited, using accurate data from missions and models. Thematic maps that reveal patterns in physical geography have been used for decades for in terrestrial atlases, but this is the first time that they are available in an atlas for Mars. The publication of this edition is a culmination of mapping efforts over the last two decades. The atlas also includes a one-page calendar for Mars year 36, covering the period from February 2021 to December 2022, which explains the milestones in the seasonal changes on Mars.”
Future plans for the atlas include the addition of themed maps that show regions of interest in detail, and atlas-based activities for educators. As well as being a tool for outreach and education, this type of multi-themed map could be valuable for the scientific community in interpreting the geologic evolution of Mars, estimating whether an area might ever have hosted life, or identifying in-situ resources to support future human exploration missions.
Henrik Hargitai will present the atlas in a live session at LPSC 2021 on 17 March 2021 at 18:00 CET.
Since 2005, Europlanet has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.
The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The project builds on a €2 million Framework 6 Coordination Action (EuroPlaNet), a €6 million Framework 7 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet RI) and a €10 million Horizon 2020 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet 2020 RI) funded by the European Commission.
The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Society’s aims are:
To expand and support a diverse and inclusive planetary community across Europe through the activities of its 10 Regional Hubs.
To build the profile of the sector through outreach, education and policy activities
To underpin the key role Europe plays in planetary science through developing links at a national and international level.
Inspiring Stories – using science fiction to teach astrobiology
In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Julie Nováková from the Charles University in the Czech Republic and the European Astrobiology Institute tells us how she edited an anthology of science fiction stories to help astrobiology outreach and education.
When was the last time you felt the unmistakable ‘sense of wonder’? The familiar awe, surprise and joy at – what? A beautiful sight to behold? A story? A discovery? A piece of data? For scientists, data itself or its collection can evoke a powerful sense of wonder (and sometimes frustration, boredom, puzzlement – we probably all know it), but for nearly anyone outside of science, the journey and/or the result has to be communicated to inspire wonder and facilitate understanding, and hopefully further interest.
Science fiction is a genre of literature built on the sense of wonder. In the 19th century, people held their breath devouring the latest Verne or Wells, widened their eyes at the modern-age horror described by Shelley, and imagined the key ‘what if’ at the heart of SF – what if we could really create new life, travel to the Moon, encounter visitors from Mars… Nowadays, SF is also very popular and increasingly familiar to most of us, at least indirectly as ‘common knowledge’. The mix of familiar tropes, wonder-inspiring new ideas and in the ideal (if not the most frequent) case relying on science makes SF a great medium for communicating science. All of the above points are enormous advantages of using SF as means of science outreach and/or education. There are potential pitfalls as well, of course – with this approach, it needs to be outlined clearly what is science and what is speculation within a story, without getting too carried away.
I’ve been writing, editing and translating science fiction for more than a decade, publishing in major magazines such as Asimov’s, Analog or Clarkesworld and having published seven novels in my native Czech. And for a decade now (how the time flies!), I’ve been studying biology. For approximately the same time, I’ve been writing popular science articles, doing workshops at schools, helping out at science-themed summer camps and lecturing at festivals, conventions and elsewhere. Astrobiology, together with astronomy and planetary science, has always been an interest of mine, and I was happy to join the European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) at the time of its founding in mid-2019. Then it was only logical to take the next step and merge my backgrounds…
As my first major project as the leader of the team ‘Science Fiction as A Tool of Astrobiology Outreach and Education’ at the EAI, I decided to prepare a freely available book of science fiction stories with interesting astrobiology themes, each accompanied by a popular science essay on the topic and a few tips for using the text in classroom, making the book useful for any individual reader as well as high school or university teachers who like to experiment with unusual approaches. It also enabled us to clearly distinguish between SF and current scientific understanding, while also providing the readers with the option to read just the nonfiction texts, just the stories, or both.
The anthology, titled Strangest of All, was released in May 2020 under the free Creative Commons license in several e-book formats, so that it was accessible to as many people as possible. It contains seven science fiction stories by six renowned authors and a bonus story by myself (whom I cannot possibly call renowned next to the rest of the names). The stories are reprints (meaning previously published), but many of them are impossible to access elsewhere, which would be a shame, because they are all amazing. Together, they showcase the topics of life in a subsurface ocean, life under extremely high pressure, potential for life in the Kuiper Belt, Dyson spheres, the Fermi Paradox, SETI and planetary protection. Each is introduced more in-depth in the nonfiction pieces I personally wrote for the book.
Publishing Strangest of All wasn’t the end of it. It needed to be promoted so that it could reach its audience and actually inspire as many people as possible. The news was shared by Europlanet, Tor.com, Centauri Dreams and elsewhere, including sources in different languages such as Spanish, Portuguese or Czech, thanks to translations of the press release by members of the institute, especially the SF outreach team. Furthermore, I conducted interviews about SF and science with three of the authors so far (Peter Watts, Gregory Benford, G. David Nordley), with three more coming up later (Geoffrey Landis, Tobias S. Buckell, D.A. Xiaolin Spires). We also used several stories from the anthology for tasks and discussions within the Astrobiology Seminar at the Charles University.
Nor is this the end. The team ‘Science Fiction as A Tool of Astrobiology Outreach and Education’ has a lot of work ahead. Apart from the ‘usual stuff’ such as convention talks, participating in exhibitions or preparing more interviews with scientists and SF authors, we’re hoping to publish a print anthology of original SF stories – written exclusively for the book in cooperation with EAI scientists – also accompanied by nonfiction pieces, covering more astrobiological topics in an exciting and innovative way. We have a long journey ahead: securing funding, talking to publishers and authors, facilitating effective author-scientist collaboration, editing… but I’m optimistic. Having edited three anthologies so far, one of them in print, I know it can be done, and I hope the result will be as amazing as we imagine now.
Luckily, we’re not alone in our efforts. SF has been used in outreach for over a century to some extent, and for instance organizers of the recent Exoplanet Demographics online conference edited a short SF e-zine for each of the days of the event, with contributions tied to the scientific topics presented that day. That is awesome – and so we move from reading the latest Verne in the age when electricity was still a miracle of modern technology to an era where science and technology surround us everywhere and are more accessible than ever before, but also have to compete for attention with many distractions and agendas. SF can hopefully help bridge the gap between entertainment and science – and show that science itself is often much more exciting than fiction, with fiction nevertheless helping us imagine what science cannot yet.
So switch on your flashlight or your e-reader, nestle in the bed covers, dive into fantastic stories of life in the universe and dream on… perhaps so much that one day, it will be you being the principal investigator of a mission not just inspired by visions of exotic life, but also aiming to elucidate the equally fantastic history of the solar system and life here on Earth.
Inspiring Stories – Explaining Seismology Through Comics
In this EPEC Inspiring Story, Dr. Petr Brož, a researcher and space communicator at the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, describes how he has developed, together with his colleague Dr. Matěj Machek, comics about seismology for teenagers.
Communicating science can be easy when we target those who are already interested and have a desire to learn something new, but this isn’t always the case. There are many groups which don’t consider scientific knowledge a priority – one of which is teenagers, who are at the transition between childhood and adulthood, and overwhelmed by the many new distractions this brings.
Those who teach know that teenagers can be one of the most difficult groups to attract. To get their attention, one needs to engage and entertain them at the same time, but also communicate to them in a familiar way.
My colleague and I had been thinking about how to overcome these difficulties, as we wanted to ignite a love for Earth sciences even within this hard to reach group. Our solution was to prepare comics explaining some basics of seismology – a field of science which is a research focus of our institute.
The idea to use cartoons as a tool for education is not new. Actually, it has been widely used; just remember ESA’s famous Rosetta and Philae ‘Once upon a time…’ adventure to catch the comet. But as far as we were aware, there was not a dedicated comic for teenagers about seismology, or more precisely, about seismic wave propagation through our planet. So the plan was simple: let’s produce one!
However, our simple plan had one tiny problem. Neither of us had any experience producing comics or an artistic gift to draw. While there was the prospect that we could learn how to make comics, it was clear to us that we would never learn how to transform our fancy ideas into beautiful drawings. Therefore, from the beginning we knew we would need to ask for some professional help. We needed the services of a graphic artist and a scriptwriter. However, to include professionals in the team caused an additional problem, but luckily for us only a minor one. We needed money to hire them!
We started to search for money. Firstly, we asked our institute, but were rejected. There was no will to spend around €8,000 on such a project. We then went one step higher and asked the Czech Academy of Sciences, but ended up with the same result. This time the reason was that there was no money left for the fiscal year. At this point we started searching for external funding. We wrote emails and spoke with many organisations, but all of them gave us negative responses. They liked the idea, but because we were asking in the middle of the year, it was a bad time to get funding. But we weren’t ready to give up. So we tried another option – asking our friends and followers on social media. Surprisingly, this finally worked and our post reached someone willing to help us.
Once the funding was secured, we started to work. First we had to think up a story which would be attractive for readers, while at the same time explaining various processes occurring inside the Earth. It may sound simple, but it was not. How could we take processes occurring deep under our feet which cannot be seen by the naked eye, and turn them into something attractive? This seemed to be the big challenge. During our brainstorming sessions several ideas came out, but it soon became clear that we would need a character to describe these processes to the readers. Who would this be? The selection was simple, the only one who would actually “feel” these deep buried processes: a seismic wave.
But a seismic wave is just energy and therefore cannot speak. So we needed the wave to become a person, and that’s how our seismic “superhero” was born. We sharpened this idea together with the scriptwriter Lucie Lukačovičová, and the rest of the story was actually quite simple to write. We came up with the idea of two kids visiting a seismic monitoring station where they would encounter the P-wave, telling them a story about how she was born and ran through the entire planet. Of course, every good story needs a build-up of tension leading to the grand finale, and our comic is no exception. We needed a dramatic ending that would also educate our readers. We came up with one, but I don’t want to spoil the story, so you’ll have to read the comics to find out the ending!
However, writing the storyline was just part of the project, and to be honest it was the easier part. The real challenges were still ahead of us. How to draw the story, the personified seismic waves (yes, waves, the P-wave has a sister, S-wave, and two brothers, the surface waves), and how to visualize these awkward processes hidden from our sight. To draw the strange behaviour of ductile rocks within the mantle or the formation of the magnetic field within the outer liquid core was not easy. These were the challenges to deal with! We spent many hours with our graphic artist Karolína Kučerová, teaching here the basics of our field before we were able to find a solution. We knew that outreach requires some simplifications of real processes, but we still wanted to be as accurate as possible. Were we successful in that? Again, open the comics and judge for yourself on all the details there.
Once we had all the drawings ready it was a time to finish the dialogues. Before making this comic I assumed that dialogs were written before the drawings, but this project showed me otherwise. There was clearly a need to significantly modify the dialog to match the drawings. I found that much of the text could actually be removed as the drawing helped to describe the scene, and this was a great lesson for me.
So after several months of work, we turned our dream into a real comic printed on shiny paper. This was a relief, but not the end of the story. There were still two important jobs to be done. First was to promote our comic to the public. This is an aspect of science communication which we have a tendency to overlook, but it is one of the most important. Once you finish your project you have to make sure that people know about it. Therefore, we arranged an interview on national TV in which we presented this piece of art, produced a press release, and actively shared information with others who could spread the word. This post is actually part of that effort. Additionally, to support sharing, the comic has been released under the free Creative Commons license.
But what about the second task? The original comic was written in Czech, a language that is used by only 15 million people. This is a relatively small audience, and our ambition for this work is much greater. We want to offer an education tool which anybody can use, and this brings us to the need to translate our work. We recently finished the English version, which you can download here, and this brings the comics to a much wider readership. However, this is not the end, and as not everybody speaks English our aim is to provide translations in many other languages, as many as our finances will allow. So if you are interested in seeing the comic in your own language, and you would be willing to translate, please let us know!
In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Dr. David Píša, a researcher studying the plasma waves in space at the Czech Academy of Sciences, tells us how he and other researchers are organising outreach talks across the country.
As a scientist, have you ever experienced a situation when your friends or family were too embarrassed to ask you about your research? Have you ever asked yourself why that’s the case? Were they scared that they wouldn’t understand that top-notch research? Or do they not want to embarrass themselves by asking you ‘simple’ questions, and risk looking uneducated or asking something that may be obvious?
Because that’s exactly what happened to us, a group of PhD students finishing our respective studies in the Czech Republic. It was seven years ago when we decided to reverse the aforementioned situation and approached the problem of ‘question-asking shyness’ from the other end. We did not wait for questions, but instead wanted to proactively provide answers to our friends and families. The first event, named “Science is coming to your village”, took place in a small village deep in Eastern Bohemia.
About thirty friends and relatives came to hear what we were doing on that specific occasion. It was very satisfying to see how they were excited about our work. The complexity of the topics wasn’t an obstacle in any way; we were able to explain even complicated topics such as the vacuum or standard particle model. It was our small victory and motivated us for further work in this regard.
So what happened next? The ‘Science to Go!’ project was founded! This project connects scientists who are sharing their passion for science with a broad audience open to listening. It was quite wild in those times when two or three people were organising everything, including communication with the host venue, presenters, and promotion. However, the idea was stronger than the difficulties that we encountered. We ended up with a concept of three talks by different speakers about their research. Every presentation typically takes twenty minutes with the final ten minutes being dedicated to an open discussion. Each of the three talks is ideally from a different scientific field. This concept ensures that 1) the speaker is an expert, 2) the audience is more likely to see a topic matching their interest, and 3) the length is acceptable.
We started with a monthly event at the municipal library in Prague. A typical event presents three young scientists – this format sometimes alternated with a bigger show featuring a well-established scientist. The highlight was a presentation of gravitational wave observations by Prof. Podolsky (Charles University) that was attended by more than four hundred people!
After two years we were forced to find a new venue for our events. We chose the Czech Scout Institute at the Old Town Square in Prague. They have been brilliant hosts and we’re still happily functioning there to this day. For our efforts, we were nominated for awards from the Czech Mathematics and Physics Society and the Czech Physics Society. We told ourselves that it was time to enlarge the organisation team and established ‘Science to Go!’ as a non-profit organisation. We accepted more than eight new core members, and a new era started. We created a division for social media and regional events.
Nowadays, the situation with COVID makes things a little complicated, as we are not able to host our events in person. But that doesn’t stop us! Every week, we broadcast a scientific talk on Facebook – one session on Mondays when the scientific concept is introduced, and then a followup Q&A session the following day where we engage with the audience and answer their direct questions online. While this has been working fantastically, we miss our regular attendees and are looking forward to meeting our audience in person again.
After more than six years in existence, the project has managed more than forty events across the whole country, visiting cities and even small villages. We have presented more than sixty scientists with their research.
Why are we different? Because we can come even to the smallest community and show top-notch science. Science to Go! is willing to continue and evolve. We are open to new enthusiastic people who want to communicate their research to anyone who listens.
Inspiring Stories – Sharing Science through Social Media
Talking to young people in their own language.
In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Jan Lukačevič from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Czech Academy of Science tells us how to reach out to a young generation with science through social media!
In previous Inspiring Stories we have read about doodling, active participation in science projects, and other examples of involving young people in science. Are there any other ways of engaging youth and attracting them to a career in science? Well, there are! And as one meme says: “Modern times require modern solutions.”
Communicating science to members of the public is an integral part of a scientist’s job, although the importance of this role has developed over the years. Mocking or disrespect directed towards those willing to communicate science is hopefully becoming a thing of the past. More and more scientists understand the importance of public and political interest due to limited funding and a lack of human resources. What has also changed are the tools to pass on the latest scientific findings. It’s common to write up press releases for media and let the journalist do their job. At best, some scientists are involved in co-hosting shows on radio or TV, although this is more common in English speaking countries.
Currently, media in general are going through a shift. With increasing distrust in traditional media and low interest in printed media and radio amongst young people there’s a need to adjust ourselves to new tools and ways to reach them. Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram are becoming the main source of information for young people whether we like it or not.
However, there’s a catch in moving onto different communication platforms. It is not only about migrating the original content, but creating completely new content which is more suitable to the demands of young people.
That’s exactly what I did two years ago, when my friends in the marketing industry convinced me to give it a try. At first I was l very hesitant, doubting my scientific achievements (there were close to none), and whether I was the right person to do this. And since you might be having the same thoughts, here’s what they told me: “Your senior colleagues may be more established and successful than you, but to a young person interested in science it is much more helpful to see somebody younger that they can more easily identify with.”
Emboldened by this, I started creating posts about space physics, my daily duties, struggles and facts related to how I progressed to my current career. I decided to use my native language for two reasons: First, there’s plenty of English content available so it would be very difficult to compete in terms of quality and second, I wanted to have as few obstacles as possible while trying to reach local audiences and bring them relevant, localised content as every education and cultural system has its own specific needs.
So far, it’s been a great success. Using humour and pop cultural references, I have built up a base of over 6000 followers, working with major TV stations and newspapers in the country and teaming up with various companies to create campaigns promoting science to the general public. The most recent campaign promoted by a telecommunications operator consisted of building a lab to grow plants in Mars-like conditions, and has already generated millions of views and the progress (fingers crossed, we haven’t had the first harvest yet) is being covered by both TV stations and newspapers.
So what are you waiting for? Sharing your passion for science and interesting things directly with others has never been easier. Post about your successes, your failures, little happy moments from the research and stories of how you got involved in science. And if you ever struggle (don’t worry, it’s also a trial and error learning process for me), feel free to drop me a message on Instagram. I’ll be more than happy to help!
In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Anna Łosiak of the University of Exeter boldly goes where science meets fantasy in the magical world of comic-cons.
There are places on this Earth where people are really determined to learn about science. Really, really determined. They not only spend hours in queues, but also occasionally participate in proper fist-fights in order to win their way into a lecture room. Those magical places are comic-cons.
I have always been a nerd. I know The Silmarillion almost by heart, live according to teachings of Terry Patchett and follow Capitan Jean-Luc Picard nearly religiously. It should be no surprise to anyone that I have been attending comic-cons. At first, I was only listening: about the science behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (we can mutate turtles, but they will most probably not turn into ninjas), about extinct fantastic beasts (gigantic spiders – yes, dragons breathing fire – no), and all about faeces (can you try to foretell the future from your own excrement? Yes, you can, but it works only if you are asking about your own health and have quite a lot of modern medical equipment handy). Lectures were usually given by other nerdy scientists: PhD students and full professors alike, who were combining their knowledge with their hobby to produce something that was both informative and entertaining. I wanted to be like them.
So, one year, 5 months before the event, I sent in an abstract and a short motivational letter to the comic-con, and was accepted. My first lecture was discussing what is scientifically correct and incorrect in the movie Armagedon. This topic is quite close to my hart, because I study impact craters and the environmental mess that they can induce on Earth. The one thing I will always remember from the evening of the presentation is a quite interesting-looking fight to get to the lecture room (Spiderman vs Conan the Barbarian – the latter won).
Lectures during a comic-con are among the most challenging outreach activities I have participated in (and I do a LOT of outreach). It needs to be understandable, engaging and entertaining for people of different ages (from early teenagers to people in their 70s), education levels and backgrounds. Luckily all those people have something in common that can be used during the presentation: their love and knowledge of sci-fi and fantasy culture. For example, probably they do not know much about impact craters, but they all are aware that Wakanda (a home of the Black Panther) was created thanks to the impact of a large vibranium meteorite. And this common comic-related base can be used to create a tale of real impact craters.
After a couple of years lecturing at comic-cons about space science I have been given large, 450 people rooms to fill and I have gained a very small but an absolutely heartwarming group of people who regularly enjoy my efforts. I have had a couple of long discussions after my lectures (e.g. 3-hour long deliberations about the habitability of planets known from sci-fi books and movies). Last but not least, as an invited first-level VIP, I have met (in a toilet) a couple of famous actors (flown to Poland from the USA). It was fun! ?
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Spotlight on Outreach – Barrel organ of plate tectonics: an innovative tool for outreach and education.
This guest post on the “Barrel organ of plate tectonics” for our Spotlight on Outreach series has been contributed by by Dr. Petr Brož of the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Science and co-chair of the Outreach Working Group of the Europlanet Early Careers Network (EPEC).
Plate tectonics is the major geological concept to explain dynamics and structure of Earth’s outer shell, the lithosphere. In the plate tectonic theory, processes in the Earth’slithosphere and its dynamics are driven by the relative motion and interaction lithospheric plages. The regions on Earth that are most geologically active often correlate with the lithospheric plate boundaries. Thus, for explaining the Earth’s surface evolution – mountain building, volcanism and earthquakes’ origin – it is important to understand processes at the plate boundaries. However, the processes associated with plate tectonics usually require a significant period of time to result in effects and, therefore, their entire cycles cannot be directly observed in nature by humans. It is a challenge for scientists to study these processes, but also for teachers and science communicators trying to explain them to students and to the general public. To more effectively engage people with these concepts, we developed a mechanical model of plate tectonics which demonstrates the most important processes associated with plate tectonics in real time.
The concept of plate tectonism is usually explained by schematic illustrations which are static and therefore can be hard for the public to imagine the complexity of the processes.
How does the model work?
The mechanical model is a wooden box, more specifically a special type of barrel organ, with hand painted backdrops in the front side. These backdrops are divided into several components representing geodynamic processes associated with plate tectonics, specifically convective currents occurring in the mantle, sea-floor spreading, a subduction of the oceanic crust under the continental crust, partial melting and volcanism associated with subduction, a formation of magmatic stripes, an ascent of mantle plume throughout the mantle, a volcanic activity associated with hot spots, and a formation and degradation of volcanic islands on moving lithospheric plate. All components are set in motion by a handle controlled by a human operator, and the scene is illuminated with colored lights controlled automatically by an electric device embedded in the box.
Conclusion and feedback
This mechanical model can be used as a unique outreach tool of geological processes usually taking eons to occur. Thus, students and the general public can understand the most important concept in geology in an easy and entertaining way. The very positive feedback from the audience showed us that we developed a really efficient tool on how to explain this interesting theory.
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Europlanet 2024 RI has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149.
Europlanet AISBL (Association Internationale Sans But Lucratif - 0800.634.634) is hosted by the Department of Planetary Atmospheres of the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), Avenue Circulaire 3, B-1180 Brussels, Belgium.