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ESOF 2016: A meeting of scientific minds 05.08.16

There’s been a lot of worry and scepticism about the future of science in the UK since Brexit rocked the boat in June. But while the politics continue to unfurl, the industry needs to carry on with business as usual. By its very nature, science is collaborative – we will still need to work with our European counterparts, as well as those throughout the rest of the world to achieve scientific progress.

Every second year sees science communicators, researchers and policy makers gather for the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) conference to help strengthen this collaboration. The event spans most of a week and covers general science policy debates all the way through to specific topics like how social media is changing the way in which science is communicated. This year, we were even entertained by an orchestra made up of humans and robots designed by children!

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Business expert, Sherry Coutu, takes centre stage in the Auditorium at Manchester Central to talk about science scale-ups

Manchester hosted the conference this time around. Having recently been recognised as the European City of Science for 2016, the City is hosting a number of science events all through the year, enabling people of all ages to discover, innovate and get excited about STEM subjects – the perfect location for the event.

To give an idea at the size, scale and importance of ESOF, speakers included the likes of Jo Johnson – Minister of State for Universities and Science; celebrity physicist Brian Cox; Sir Mark Walport – Government Chief Scientific Adviser for the UK; entrepreneur and angel investor Sherry Coutu and even Tim Peake and David Attenborough via video.

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Proof nabs a front row spot at an audience with Professor Brain Cox and Professor Matthew Cobb

The conference was full of great lectures and workshops, not to mention the exhibition space, which brought together some of the UK’s finest science industry, academic and media organisations. So what did we learn? There’s far too much to fit into just one blog, but here are five of the top things we took away from the event:

  1. Brexit is not defining science – while every person you meet from outside of the country had something to say about it; the entire science community is determined to carry on making things work in a post-Brexit world for the good of, well, everyone. As Fabiola Gianotti, Director-General of CERN, argues in one event session: there is no smoking gun for exploring fundamentals of our universe, so we must combine all techniques through global collaboration
  2. ‘Pretty’ science is popular – as sad as it is to admit, there was a unanimous verdict that the likes of astronomy and engineering are far more likely to get financial backing in terms of media and communications simply because it looks nice on camera. Even Brian Cox himself addressed this and stressed the need for change
  3. The eternal struggle remains – no matter which way you turn in the science industry, there is a wrestling match in communication between achieving scientific accuracy and making science accessible. As science communicators, we know that the two are not mutually exclusive and work hard every day to ensure that one complements the other, but it’s interesting to see that so many still think it’s a choice
  4. There were far less academics than anticipated – for such a large conference, being solely focused on science, there were far fewer academics than we thought there would be. This is important to recognise, as it meant that a large number of the biggest debates in science and policy were being held by politicians, management and communicators rather than scientists themselves
  5. Knowledge sharing is golden –the event helped to prove this once again, as we came out with an armoury of information on the upcoming challenges, trends and innovation in our industry. It showed that even in this digital world, there’s still no comparison for seeing and hearing things for yourself
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An application showcasing augmented reality (AR) on the European Commission stand

Over the coming few weeks my colleague, Alex Cloney, and I will be writing a series of blogs detailing some of the top trends and discussions arising from the conference. We hope you enjoy reading them.

The next ESOF conference will be held in Toulouse in 2018, for more information click here.

If you have any questions or comments about this blog or would like to get in touch, please email bryony@aprilsixproof.com