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New Ideas for Science Communication

Berlin University Alliance supporting six experimental laboratories / Joint press release issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

№ 040/2021 from Mar 04, 2021

The Berlin University Alliance (BUA) is funding a total of six joint research projects as experimental laboratories for science communication. The focus is on a new form of science communication (knowledge exchange), one which not only seeks to impart knowledge to society, but also encourages participation from society to help scientists gain new perspectives. The BUA earmarked 2.4 million euros of funding for this endeavor. Funding is set to start in April 2021.

Experimental laboratories for science communication are interdisciplinary projects executed by research groups in which communicative ideas are developed using an innovative approach and new formats of exchange are tested out for target groups that have largely been ignored in the past. The newly funded experimental laboratories serve both to present research findings and to discuss research issues whose answers have yet to be found or can only be properly addressed through communication with society.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. Sabine Kunst, president of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and spokesperson for the Berlin University Alliance: “We were pleasantly surprised by the proposals we received both in terms of quality and quantity. The recent project selection process enables us, as the BUA, to try out new exchange formats with society. The mission of this knowledge exchange with society is also an important matter to me personally, and I am looking forward to seeing the first results from the labs.”

Prof. Dr. Marc Dewey from the steering committee of the Fostering Knowledge Exchange objective area of the Berlin University Alliance: “The experimental laboratories are planning a host of different and exciting formats for this knowledge exchange with society. By applying these new approaches to science communication, those involved hope that new scientific knowledge will be gained through the central role played by society. The innovative concepts will also be available to other researchers once the projects have concluded.”

The call for proposals was aimed at topic-specific research projects that were already working in collaborative groups and involved at least two of four partner institutions of the BUA – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Links to the various objective areas of the BUA excellence alliance were encouraged. Contributions to cross-cutting themes such as Teaching and LearningDiversity and Gender Equality, and Internationalization, as well as topics such as Open Science and Open Access were expressly included in the criteria for funding.

The projects are to be funded in the two funding lines “Fast Approach” over one year and “Long Road” over three years. In the compact format, the researchers enter into direct, day-to-day dialog with the actors in their respective target groups after just a short conception phase.

Researchers in the six experimental laboratories not only work on a cross-departmental and cross-institutional basis within the projects, but they also network with researchers involved in the other types of formats being funded. In this way, they support the Berlin University Alliance’s goal of further shaping Berlin as an integrated research environment. In addition, this new format enables researchers to learn from each other in a methodological manner, to bundle their resources, and to test new formats in other scientific fields.

The Projects in Detail

Fast Approach

Your Emotional City! “Emocity Citizen Science Laboratory.” Jointly Exploring Stress and Resilience In Urban Dwellers. Principal proposer: Prof. Dr. Mazda Adli, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

Cities are growing. At the same time, mental strain caused by stress is becoming increasingly common among urban dwellers. Researchers from the fields of psychiatry, urban planning, psychology, neuroscience, architecture, sociology, philosophy, and ethnography have joined forces in the “Interdisciplinary Forum Neurourbanism” to help investigate the influence of the city on people’s emotions, behavior, and mental health. With their interdisciplinary research, the researchers hope to contribute to creating cities that are worth living in and that are conducive to the mental health of their inhabitants.

This is the basis for the experimental laboratory, Emocity Citizen Science Laboratory. Working in collaboration with Futurium Berlin, the researchers hope to raise social awareness for this pressing issue of urban living.

With its app-based Citizen Science approach, the project invites Berlin residents to join researchers in actively exploring the impact of city life on our mental health. What are the city’s stress points? What places are conducive to well-being? In interactive events, forums, and workshops, they meet to exchange knowledge and develop an emotional city map of Berlin

Trash Games – Playing with the Circular Economy Transition at the HdM. Principal proposer: Prof. Dr. Vera S. Rotter, Technische Universität Berlin, Institut für Technischen Umweltschutz

Although recycling remains a hot topic, raw material consumption and the environmental damage that comes with it are on the rise. Demand for materials in our society is still met to a limited extent within a closed loop circular economy, which ultimately still ensures a large carbon footprint among other things. Used materials markets, public workshops for textiles, wood, and metal, repair cafés, borrowing shops, and the exchange of tools and equipment are just some of the ideas conceived for ecological and climate-friendly alternatives to over-consumption. The effectiveness of these activities for a future of resource conservation is being investigated by the Chair of Circular Economy and Recycling Technology at Technische Universität Berlin.

Together with the Stadtlabor of Multimodal Anthropology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, researchers are taking a playful approach toward making the principles of the circular economy a practical experience – science communication that promotes participation. The social game shows the challenges presented in the pursuit of sustainable materials management and thus makes them consciously tangible. For the design of the game, the researchers are teaming up with the “Haus der Materialisierung” (House of Materialization), where numerous zero-waste initiatives, start-ups, social enterprises, artists, educational institutions, and scientists work and do research on finding alternative types of materials management, all under the one roof.

Long Road

AnthropoScenes. Making Sustainable Futures Public. Principal proposer: Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Using water as an example, the experimental laboratory focuses on how people deal with their resources. Researchers from the fields of biology, geography, economics, resource economics, anthropology, and the political sciences at the three major Berlin universities provide support in highlighting concrete aspects relating to the management and distribution of water resources from a wide variety of perspectives.

The AnthropoScenes project seeks to combine theater and science. The staging of realities in a theatrical setting promotes the communication of powerful ideas and messages through the use of storytelling methods. Those interested are invited to engage in conversation with researchers, artists, and players from the fields of politics and economy. The experimental laboratory combines performances and artistic participatory formats on stages in Berlin and in Brandenburg with digital formats and platforms as well as a final game show – developed and executed in a collaborative space between the Theater of the Anthropocene, the Natural History Museum, and the Humboldt Laboratory. The aim is to stimulate public debate on a sustainable (global) future of water in society, which in turn, it is hoped, will provide impetus for research.

Schule @ Decision Theatre Lab. Principal proposer: Dr. Sarah Wolf, Freie Universität Berlin, Institut für Mathematik

The Schule @ Decision Theatre Lab takes its inspiration from the alliance research conducted by the Berlin-based cluster of excellence MATH+ on mathematical modelings of social phenomena. Mathematical modeling can be found everywhere, from crucible development to solar cell improvement to evacuation plans, as well as in societal challenges such as the transition to sustainable materials management or the spread of epidemics.

The experimental laboratory seeks to engage with students and future teachers of mathematics not only about the fascination of mathematical models, but also about their usefulness in society. To this end, two formats are combined in a productive way. A school lab workshop, a series of lectures and workshops, provides exciting insights into mathematics with its many real-life references and introduces mathematical models. In the Decision Theatre, participants can experiment with mathematical models of selected social phenomena by acting out complex decision-making processes using data.

Projektlabor Wissenschaftskommunikation (Project Laboratory – Scientific Communication). Principal proposer: Prof. Dr. Birgit Kanngießer, Technische Universität Berlin, Institute of Optics and Atomic Physics

Researchers from the fields of physics, chemistry, didactics, and Arbeitslehre are setting up an experimental laboratory as a teaching module for students. In this way, they can learn at an early stage how to play a mediating role between research and society. By carrying out independent interdisciplinary group work, they aim to develop new ideas for a target group-oriented presentation of scientific data and results with natural scientists from Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin, among others. They will be collaborating with research institutions such as BESSY II, the electron storage ring at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, and BLIX, the application laboratory for innovative X-ray technologies, which is operated by Technische Universität Berlin together with the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics.

In cooperation with the Experimental Stage Project Berlin and linked to the maker movement, the teaching concept comprises sustainable methods such as 3D printing, Arduino programming or laser-cutting, and also includes artistic methods and concepts introduced through collaborations with UdK, Parallax Lab Berlin, and Hybrid Plattform Berlin. Knowledge exchange with artists for new presentation formats of student-based science communication – for example, through performance, multimedia work or installations – promises to generate new impetus to Berlin as an integrated research environment.

Wenn Materie lebendig wird (When Matter Comes to Life). Principal proposer: Leá Perraudin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, cluster of excellence “Matters of Activity. Image Space Material”

Researchers from the clusters of excellence “Matters of Activity. Image Space Material” and “Science of Intelligence” have joined forces in the experimental laboratory “Wenn Materie lebendig wird” (when matter comes to life). They want to publicly discuss the intelligence of materials and make this a tangible experience. Our relationship to nature and technology is being fundamentally changed by materials that to all intents and purposes become intelligent participants in society following the example of nature as active matter. The smartphone can almost be considered as part of the human body; at the same time, increasingly novel clothing materials are imitating nature. Today, different types of technological equipment in our everyday lives interact independently with their environment, for example, by means of modern sensor and motor technology or by using self-active, soft, or smart materials.

The experimental laboratory uses playful formats to address people from three social groups in order to approach this future topic together with the clusters’ researchers: school students, people from start-ups, management, and politics, and individuals from the general public. A platform for digital learning modules and laboratories, which can be accessed using a virtual-reality headset, and a pop-up science station are two important components of this. In Flip Science events, postgraduates from the two clusters face off to defend their research as part of a playful competition in an unconventional and comprehensible manner. In addition, robotics workshops or fish bowl events for start-up companies are in the pipeline.

“What if...?” Open workshops in which designs are created and explored in hypothetical future scenarios based on three examples (soft-robotic hand, plant, shoe) represent the central element of the second phase of the experimental laboratory. True to the motto “Knowing by Doing,” the self-activity and intelligence of active materials can be made comprehensible and tangible. The results of this transdisciplinary work will later be presented to the public as part of a joint exhibition at the Humboldt Forum.

Joint press release issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Further Information

The Berlin University Alliance

The Berlin University Alliance is a consortium consisting of three major Berlin universities – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin – and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, established to shape research and education in Berlin. The four partners joined forces to further develop Berlin as a research hub with international drawing power. Together the partners explore major societal challenges, increase public outreach, promote the training of junior researchers, address issues of quality and standards in research, and share resources in the areas of research infrastructure, teaching, diversity, equal opportunities, and internationalization. The Berlin University Alliance is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the State of Berlin under the Excellence Strategy of the German federal and state governments.

Press Contact

Acting Press Spokesperson for the Berlin University Alliance and Press Spokesperson for Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Email: medien@berlin-university-alliance.de, Website: www.berlin-university-alliance.de   

More information about the “Call for proposals for Experimental Science Communication Laboratories” of Objective 2: Fostering Knowledge Exchange of the Berlin University Alliance: https://www.berlin-university-alliance.de/en/commitments/knowledge-exchange/experimental-laboratories/index.html