Swiss embrace the magic of science

Scientists are spending the week taking science out of the laboratory and into the public arena

A week-long festival of science is underway in Switzerland designed to promote dialogue between the scientific community and the general public.

This content was published on May 4, 2001 - 22:12

Debates, plays, exhibitions and experiments have been organised across the country.

The hall of Zurich's central station has been converted into a giant laboratory with scientists on hand to explain cutting-edge projects like research into BSE and attempts to store energy in zinc.

Visitors have the opportunity to meet Gulliver, a prototype of a "smart room" which can interact with people and play games with them.

Geneva's theme for the week is the paranormal. Topics range from extraterrestrials to telepathy, magic and spiritual healing.

The organisers of Geneva's festival have already hoaxed thousands of people around the world with the false information that a radio telescope in Australia has picked up an unusual signal from outer space.

In Lausanne, a debate on agriculture and biotechnology will pit opponents and supporters of gene technology. Festival director, Daniel de Roulet, says it was the controversy generated by the 1998 initiative to restrict genetic engineering which revealed the need for science week.

"The scientific community tends to come out on the street only when they have a big problem or when they are angry about something which affects their research, "he said.

"We want people to talk in festive atmosphere before the 'science war' is openly declared."

Meanwhile, in Basel, the theatre director is swapping jobs with a chief researcher in the chemical industry for two days to illustrate the similarities and differences between the world of culture and the world of science.

De Roulet says the festival is not just an occasion for the scientific community to publicise its work. It also offers an opportunity for members of the public to voice their hopes and fears and to engage scientists in debate.

If the published programmes of the organising committees in 10 Swiss cities are anything to go by, they will certainly have plenty to discuss.

Whether Fire in Fribourg, Light in Lucerne or Certainty and Uncertainty in Ticino, science is spilling out of the laboratories and onto the street.

by Vincent Landon

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