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New ideas for scientific communication

Berlin University Alliance supporting six experimental laboratories

News from Mar 04, 2021

A total of six joint research projects are being funded as experimental science communication laboratories of the Berlin University Alliance (BUA). The focus is on a new form of scientific communication (knowledge exchange), one which not only seeks to impart knowledge to society, but also encourages participation from society to help science gain new perspectives. 2.4 million euros of funding has been earmarked for this endeavor. Funding is set to start in April 2021.

Experimental science communication laboratories are interdisciplinary projects executed by research groups in which communicative ideas are developed using an innovative approach and new formats of exchange are tested out for target groups that have largely been ignored in the past. The funded experimental laboratories serve both to present research results and to discuss research questions whose answers have yet to be found or can only be properly addressed through communication with society.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. Sabine Kunst, president of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and spokesperson of the Berlin University Alliance: “We were pleasantly surprised by the applications we received both in terms of quality and quantity. The recent project selection process enables us, as the BUA, to try out new exchange formats with society. The mission of this knowledge exchange with society is also an important matter to me personally, and I look forward to seeing the first results from the labs.”

Prof. Dr. Marc Dewey from the steering committee of the Fostering Knowledge Exchange objective area of the Berlin University Alliance: “The experimental laboratories are planning a host of different and exciting formats for this knowledge exchange with society. By applying these new approaches to science communication, the associations hope that new scientific knowledge will be gained through the central role played by society. The innovative concepts will also be available to other researchers once the projects have concluded.”

The call for proposals was aimed at topic-specific research projects that were already working in associations and involved at least two of four partner institutions of the BUA – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Links to the various objective areas of the excellence alliance were expressly encouraged. Contributions to cross-cutting themes such as Teaching and Learning, Diversity and Gender Equality, and Internationalization, as well as topics such as Open Science and Open Access were even among the criteria for funding.

The projects are to be funded in the two funding lines “Fast Approach” over one year and “Long Road” over three years. In the compact format, the researchers enter into direct, day-to-day dialog with the actors in their respective target groups already after just a short conception phase.

The six experimental laboratories not only work on a cross-departmental and cross-institutional basis within the projects, but they also network with the other supported formats. In this way, they support the Berlin University Alliance's goal of further shaping Berlin as an integrated research environment. In addition, it enables researchers to learn from each other in a methodological manner, to bundle their resources, and to test new formats in other scientific fields.

The projects in detail

Fast Approach

Your Emotional City! “Emocity Citizen Science Laboratory.” Jointly Exploring Stress and Resilience in Urban Dwellers, principal applicant: Prof. Dr. Mazda Adli, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy

Cities are growing. At the same time, mental strain caused by stress is becoming increasingly common among urban dwellers. Researchers from the fields of psychiatry, urban planning, psychology, neuroscience, architecture, sociology, philosophy and ethnography have joined forces in the “Interdisciplinary Forum Neurourbanism” to help investigate the influence of the city on people's emotions, behavior, and mental health. With their interdisciplinary research, they have as their aim the creation of cities that are worth living in and that are conducive to the mental health of their inhabitants. This is the starting point for the experimental laboratory Emocity Citizen Science Laboratory. In cooperation with Futurium Berlin, it hopes to raise social awareness for this pressing issue of urban living. With its app-based Citizen Science approach, the project invites Berlin residents to actively explore the impact of city life on our mental health with researchers. What are the city's stress points? What are places of well-being? In interactive events, forums and workshops, they meet up to exchange knowledge and develop an emotional city map of Berlin.

Trash Games – Playing with the Circular Economy Transition at the HdM, principal applicant: Prof. Dr. Vera S. Rotter, Technische Universität Berlin, Institute of Environmental Technology

Although recycling remains a hot topic, raw material consumption and the environmental damage that comes with it are on the rise. Demand for materials in our society is still met to a limited extent within a closed loop circular economy, which ultimately still ensures a large carbon footprint among other things. Used materials markets, public workshops for textiles, wood and metal, repair cafés, borrowing shops, and the exchange of tools and equipment are just some of the ideas conceived for ecological and climate-friendly alternatives to overconsumption. The effectiveness of these activities for a future of resource conservation is being investigated by the Chair of Circular Economy and Recycling Technology at Technische Universität Berlin.
Together with the Stadtlabor of Multimodal Anthropology at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, researchers are taking a playful approach toward making the principles of the circular economy a practical experience – science communication that promotes participation. The social game shows the challenges presented in the pursuit of sustainable materials management and thus makes them consciously tangible. For the design of the game, the researchers are teaming up with the “Haus der Materialisierung” (House of Materialization), where numerous zero-waste initiatives, start-ups, social enterprises, artists, educational institutions, and scientists work and do research on finding alternative types of materials management all under the one roof.

Long Road

AnthropoScenes. Making Sustainable Futures Public, principal applicant: Prof. Dr. Jörg Niewöhner, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Department of European Ethnology

Using water as an example, the experimental laboratory focuses on how people deal with their resources. Researchers from the fields of biology, geography, economics, resource economics, ethnology, and the political sciences at the three major Berlin universities provide support in highlighting concrete aspects relating to the management and distribution of water resources from a wide variety of perspectives.

AnthropoScenes thereby seeks to combine theater and science. The staging of realities in a theatrical setting promotes the communication of powerful ideas and messages through the use of storytelling methods. Those interested are invited to engage in conversation with researchers, artists, and players from the fields of politics and economy. The experimental laboratory combines performances and artistic participatory formats on stages in Berlin and in Brandenburg with digital formats and platforms as well as a final game show – developed and executed in a collaborative space between the Theater of the Anthropocene, the Natural History Museum, and the Humboldt Laboratory. The aim is to stimulate public debate on a sustainable (global) future of water in society, which in turn, it is hoped, will provide impetus for research.

Schule@DecisionTheatre Lab, principal applicant: Dr. Sarah Wolf, Freie Universität Berlin, Institute of Mathematics, Exzellenzcluster »MATH+ Berlin Mathematics Research Center«

The Schule@DecisionTheatre Lab takes its inspiration from the alliance research conducted by the Berlin-based cluster of excellence MATH+ on mathematical modelings of social phenomena. Mathematical modeling can be found everywhere, from crucible development to solar cell improvement to evacuation plans, as well as in societal challenges such as the transition to sustainable materials management or the spread of epidemics.
The experimental laboratory seeks to engage with students and future teachers of mathematics not only about the fascination of mathematical models, but also about their usefulness in society. To this end, two formats are combined in a productive way. A school lab workshop, a series of lectures and workshops, provides exciting insights into mathematics with its many real-life references and introduces mathematical models. In the Decision Theatre, participants can experiment with mathematical models of selected social phenomena by acting out complex decision-making processes using data.

Projektlabor Wissenschaftskommunikation (Project Laboratory – Scientific Communication), principal applicant: Prof. Dr. Birgit Kanngießer, Technische Universität Berlin, Institute of Optics and Atomic Physics

Researchers from the fields of physics, chemistry, didactics, and work studies are setting up an experimental laboratory as a teaching module for students. In this way, they can learn at an early stage how to play a mediating role between research and society. By carrying out independent interdisciplinary group work, they aim to develop new ideas for a target group-oriented presentation of scientific data and results with natural scientists from Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin, among others. They will be collaborating with research institutions such as BESSY II, the electron storage ring at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, and BLIX, the application laboratory for innovative X-ray technologies, which is operated by Technische Universität Berlin together with the Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics.
In cooperation with the Experimental Stage Project Berlin and linked to the maker movement, the teaching concept comprises sustainable methods such as 3D printing, Arduino programming or laser-cutting, and also includes artistic methods and concepts introduced through collaborations with UdK, Parallax Lab Berlin, and Hybrid Plattform Berlin. Knowledge exchange with artists for new presentation formats of student-based science communication – for example, through performance, multimedia work or installations – promises to generate new impetus to Berlin as an integrated research environment.

Wenn Materie lebendig wird (when matter comes to life), principal applicant: Leá Perraudin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, cluster of excellence “Matters of Activity. Image Space Material”

Researchers from the cluster of excellence “Matters of Activity. Image Space Material” and “Science of Intelligence” have joined forces in the experimental laboratory “Wenn Materie lebendig wird” (when matter comes to life). They want to publicly discuss the intelligence of materials and make this a tangible experience. Our relationship to nature and technology is being fundamentally changed by materials which become, to all intents and purposes, intelligent participants in society following the example of nature as active matter. The smartphone can almost be considered as part of the human body; at the same time, increasingly novel clothing materials are imitating nature. Today, different types of technological equipment in our everyday lives interact independently with their environment, for example by means of modern sensor and motor technology or by using self-active, soft or smart materials.
The experimental laboratory uses playful formats to address people from three social groups in order to approach this future topic together with the cluster's researchers: school students, people from start-ups, management and politics, as well as people from the general public. A platform for digital learning modules and laboratories, which can be accessed using a virtual-reality headset, and a pop-up science station are two important components of this. In Flip Science events, postgraduates from the two clusters face off to defend their research as part of a playful competition in an unconventional and comprehensible manner. In addition, robotics workshops or fish bowl events for start-up companies are in the pipeline.
“What if...?” Open workshops in which designs are created and explored in hypothetical future scenarios based on three examples (soft-robotic hand, plant, shoe) represent the central element of the second phase of the experimental laboratory. True to the motto “Knowing by Doing”, the self-activity and intelligence of active materials is thus made comprehensible and tangible. The results of this transdisciplinary work will then be presented to the public as part of a joint exhibition at the Humboldt Forum.

The Berlin University Alliance

The Berlin University Alliance is a consortium consisting of three major Berlin universities – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin – and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, established to shape research and education in Berlin. The four partners joined forces to further develop Berlin as a research hub with international drawing power. Together the partners explore major societal challenges, increase public outreach, promote the training of junior researchers, address issues of quality and standards in research, and share resources in the areas of research infrastructure, teaching, diversity, equal opportunities, and internationalization. The Berlin University Alliance is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the state of Berlin under the Excellence Strategy of the Federal Government and the Länder.

Joint press release by Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin along with Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Press contact

Hans-Christoph Keller, acting press spokesperson of the Berlin University Alliance and press spokesperson of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Email: medien@berlin-university-alliance.de 

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