On the evening of the 23 June 2016, I was at an Awards Dinner for the Royal Academy of Engineering, which is held each year to recognise excellence in engineering of all varieties. Talking to colleagues around the table that night, the majority were sure that the UK electorate would vote to remain in the EU. Although only one person I talked to admitted to having voted to leave, I was not convinced that this was going to be such an easy victory for the Remain Campaign. I had been worried for some time that many people from “my generation”, who had voted to join the European Community in the last referendum in 1975, were coming out in force to reverse that decision.
Like many physicists in the UK, I spent the final Friday of June in shock. Voters in Britain had just opted by a margin of 52% to 48% to leave the European Union (EU) – and suddenly nothing in the world seemed to make sense any more. I’d never really thought a majority would want a British exit (Brexit) from the EU. As with the referendum over Scottish independence from the UK in 2014, I’d assumed voters would come to their senses at the last minute.
It’s now two months since I accepted the Presidency of the German Physical Society, the DPG: a great honour for any German physicist, but also a great responsibility. With over 60,000 members, the DPG is the largest society devoted to physics in the world. It binds itself and its members to advocate for freedom, tolerance, truth and dignity in science, and to be conscious of the fact that those of us working in science have a particularly important role in society, being to a large extent responsible for the development of society. To me, that means that organisations like the DPG, and indeed the European Physical Society, need to look very closely at education as the basis to both the progress of science and of society.
A round table on the theme “Physics for Development” was organised during the Council Meeting of the European Physical Society (EPS) on 1 April 2016. There is no doubt that science and technology are essential elements to meet the challenges for sustainable development. Fundamental and applied scientific research lay the foundations for new methodologies to identify, clarify and provide solutions to global challenges. Science contributes to social and technological progress, improving the quality of life through advances in medicine, agriculture, energy supply, education, communication, etc. Science is also in itself a way of crossing national, cultural and mental borders by fostering international cooperation.
2015 is coming to an end, and with it, the International Year of Light 2015 with numerous closing ceremonies around the world, after a very successful and colorful year launched last January in Paris. ‘Our life depends on Light’ stated Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, in her introductory message to the delegates at the opening ceremony. The magic of light and the success of thousands of specific events have demonstrated the enthusiasm generated worldwide by this initiative. With over 100 partners in more than 85 countries, the IYL 2015 has been a global cross-disciplinary, educational and outreach enterprise, also celebrating a broad cultural heritage. It is well recognised that the science and applications of light will continue to generate many new technologies in health, communication, economy, environment and social areas, with a direct impact on the quality of our lives. I cannot avoid mentioning here the last issue of EPN, devoted to the science of light, as a tribute to IYL 2015, and this thanks to the dedication of Luc Bergé, chair of the Quantum Electronics and Optics Division.
Democracy relies on an educated population. High quality schools and teachers, classrooms open for all and interesting and exact teaching materials help to teach successive generations. The western world has known 70 years of peaceful co-existence. And although there is considerable turmoil in the world, parts of Asia, Africa and South America are also experiencing unprecedented growth. There are more people that are receiving a high quality education than ever before.
One essential question today is how much responsibility must scientists take in advising politicians on science policy issues and other society challenges.
In an article that appeared in EPN45/3 in 2014, entitled ‘Climate change can we afford to wait longer?‘ I expressed my personal view on the need to communicate on important and timely environmental issues. This was an easy process since this opinion was that of a single author. In the meantime, the EPS has published a position paper written by its…
Marcel Proust, the great French writer, is best known for his book À la recherche du temps perdu. Memories take the central role in the novel, where apparently insignificant details prove to be the most important. A well-known scene is when a madeleine cake allows the narrator to experience the past completely, as a whole, in resonance with his present existence. Marcel Proust showed, though his wonderful writing, that recognising the importance of apparently insignificant details is a source of pleasure and happiness.
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Twitter has over 280 million active users who send around 500 million tweets a day. These are impressive statistics, and we all hear regularly of some news or controversy that starts and spreads via a tweet. Given the extensive reach of the Twitter network, one would think that it might be useful for serious science. However, most scientists tend to think that Twitter is at best not especially relevant or indeed that it’s a complete waste of time! That said, there are a number of high profile scientists (e.g. Brian Cox, Neil de Grasse Tyson) and research institutes (e.g. CERN, NASA) with over a million followers, so there are clearly many people who wish to hear what scientists have to say.
The Opening Ceremony of the International year of Light took place in Paris on 19-20 January 2015. It was a wonderful event, full of exciting science, inspiring uses of technology for social progress, and beautiful artistic representations. Since then, I have been in a number of conversations where people have asked “what is the lasting impact”?
Actually, this question gets asked a lot in any context where the scientific community in general, and the European Physical Society [EPS] in particular becomes involved in outreach or policy initiatives. While it is a good question, and requires a reply, it can be misleading. When it gets asked, the questioner wants to know what this one event (this …
From an idea hatched back in 2009, the International Year of Light 2015 has now arrived in full force! What an amazing two days it was in Paris at UNESCO HQ at the Opening Ceremony, where the international scientific community came together with diplomats and politicians, architects and designers, leading companies in light technologies, representatives from the European Commission, artists and performers, students, volunteers and many more.