De Jonge onderzoekers

ITN-TCCM & Science Outreach Activities

Within the ITN-TCCM network, informative science activities are very important. Indeed, the science outreaching have been the platform to attract people to fundamental research. Such activities have drawn the attention to different sectors of the society, including young people, organizations, industries and, governmental entities. The impact of computational modelling over young people, even at early ages, is very positive since they become attracted to. But computational modelling is more than satisfying curiosities of young people. Actually, private organizations or industries get involved into computational chemistry when they realize that costs of traditional researching can be considerably reduced with it. These appealing features of science, particularly computational chemistry, have further encouraged public and private entities to funding large projects.

As an example is worth mentioning De Jonge onderzoekers (DJO) organization in Groningen The Netherlands. DJO (in English The young researchers) is a Dutch organization devoted to attract young people to technology and science. The initiative came up in the early ’70 by Professor Jan Kommandeur from the University of Groningen (UG), and since then it has spread along The Netherlands. The organization is partially supported by the Dutch government and greatly supported by volunteers, the largest capital of the organization. Volunteers have different backgrounds, from a technical / scientific background to artists and pedagogues. They are in charge of planning and supervising all the activities at the DJO.

One of our ITN-TCCM fellows volunteers as lecturer in the weekly Natuur & Techniek (in English Science and Technology) course. In the Science and Technology course all kinds of facets of biology, chemistry, physics and technology are discussed. Experiments range from simple chemical reactions (DNA heredity, solubility and density), electricity circuit and electricity, astronomy, magnets, electromagnets, to characterization of compounds by using microscopes and spectrophotometers. The volunteer work in this course implies preselecting the experiments or techniques to discuss about, the execution of them and the analysis within the two hour lecture.

As part of her work, our ITN-TCCM fellows recently co-organized a guided tour in the Zernike Campus, of the UG. The tour consisted in a guided visit to the Photophysics and Optoelectronics (P&O-E) Laboratory of the Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials and the Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life Sciences (GELIFES). In the P&O-E Laboratory, the children were hosted by two expert members, and they had the chance to see how organic and inorganic solar cells (SC) are made and characterized. They were quickly introduced to the synthesis of conductive layers and measurements of their efficiencies. From the different techniques and equipments, children were highly attracted to the glovebox. For that reason they were allowed to manipulate substances in an inert atmosphere, naturally following the lab safety rules.

At the GELIFES, children, hosted by Richel Bilderbeek (PhD student in the UG and active volunteer at DJO), made DNA experiments. They were also introduced to genetic/genomic methods to address ecological, evolutionary and conservation questions related to biodiversity, ecosystem function, community interactions, speciation and adaptation, both in the laboratory and in the field. This activity was also very participative; children had the opportunity to see how life history evolution investigations on organisms, such as insects, fish, birds, and mammals, including humans, are performed.

Anecdotally, one of the active advisors in the ITN-TCCM network, Prof. Ria Broer, from the UG, was also a volunteer at DJO organization. Prof. Ben Feringa, Nobel Laureate and Professor of Chemistry at the UG, participates as invited speaker and he is also part of the Committee of Recommendation of DJO in Groningen.

DJO is just an example, there are even more science outreach experiences where experiments and simulations have played a role. In overall, it has been demonstrated that the feedback is positive independently of the location, language, culture or the public-type. That fact has certainly encouraged many other members of our ITN-TCCM to participate in science outreach activities not only at individual but also at team-organized level. For instance, several fellows have organized in different activities, such as, motivational lectures for high-school students, science festivals, informative disseminations and others. As already reported in this blog, some ITN-TCCM members visited a high school in San Sebastian, Spain (October 2016), where they successfully discussed the myths of scientists and their perspectives.

To close, we are glad that such science outreach activities have a place in current days, and even more glad to see that nowadays a wider spectrum of people have a clearer idea of what theoretical chemistry and computational modelling is.

In this edition:
Maria Izquierdo (PhD. S. Theoretical Chemistry group, UG), active DJO volunteer
Prof. Ria Broer (Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Chemistry group, UG), former DJO volunteer

Acknowledgements
Prof. Maria A. Loi (Chair of the P&O-E Laboratory, UG)
Wytse Talsma and Dima Bederak (members of the P&O-E Laboratory, UG)
Peter Struwe Bas van Tiggelen (staff members of the DJO, Groningen)

Maria Izquierdo

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