Boost for Dublin as next year's European City of Science


Dublin’s role as City of Science will bring benefits to Ireland and raise our international standing in research, writes CONOR O'CARROLL

DUBLIN IS the European City of Science next year and will host the biennial EuroScience Open Forum (Esof 2012) from July 12th to 15th. The event is expected to bring together more than 5,000 scientists, business leaders, government officials, policy- makers and international scientific media representatives to discuss the best of European science. It will also confront the major global scientific challenges, including energy, climate change, food and health.

EuroScience was founded in 1997 to provide a forum for debate on science, technology and research policies in Europe and to strengthen the links between science and society. It is worth noting that the term science is meant in the true European sense of the word, covering all disciplines from engineering to humanities. This is a bottom-up organisation of scientists and is funded through the direct subscription of its members.

Our own chief science adviser, Prof Patrick Cunningham, is a member of the governing board. To some extent, EuroScience can be seen as a European counterpart to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (Aaas). Among the organisation’s responsibilities is the presentation of the European Young Researcher Award (Eyra). The University College Dublin CD Conway postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Donal Brennan, was the first Irish recipient of this award last year at Esof in Turin.

The forum is an international interdisciplinary meeting, which is intended to showcase the latest advances in science and technology and open up a dialogue on the role of science and technology in society. It strives to get the public interested in science and technology, reaching out across disciplinary boundaries to face issues that are of concern to us all. This year’s will be the fifth open forum and the biggest yet.

The first forum was held in Stockholm in 2004 with more than 1,800 participants. Last year’s event in Turin involved more than 4,300 people and covered topics such as the biology of music and language, war and peace in insect society, the nature of human altruism and how long you will live.

The event is open, and a call for papers was published on St Valentine’s Day. Anyone can plan and organise a session based on the broad themes of the event. In 2012 these will include: food; health; energy, environment and climate; science and culture; information; science, education and innovation policy. Within each theme there is the expectation that cross-cutting issues, such as linking the natural and social sciences, humanities and arts, will be treated.

It is worth taking a closer look at these topics as evidence that this is not just a scientific conference. The food strand will touch on ways to feed the world, the use of genetically modified organisms and animal health. The health theme will be concerned with personal diet, nutritional health and obesity. Renewable energy resources will be at issue, along with the geopolitics of energy. The science and culture strand will consider how science provides meaning, and will look at the concept of free will and at some artists who have drawn inspiration from the sciences. The policy theme will cover the best ways to fund research and how to educate scientists to innovate.

There will be presentations about the relevance of universities and what they will look like in the future. Searching questions will be asked about the life and death of the universe, deep-space astronomy and the limits of science.

It was tough to get the event to Dublin in the face of fierce competition from Vienna. The Irish proposal focused on science and society, with its plans to enable Esof to gather together those interested in science, society and policy. It was recognised that the ground for the bid was exceptionally well prepared, involving a global network and an approach that was geared towards higher business involvement.

Esof 2012 will be an opportunity for Ireland to demonstrate advances in Irish science across all disciplines. It will attract large numbers of scientists from across the world, and will seek to engage with citizens on the importance of science for our future.

“While being utterly serious about science, our event philosophy is one of science serving society,” says Patrick Cunningham. “We want the citizens of Dublin and Ireland to get involved.”

Conor O’Carroll is research director at the Irish Universities Association;