3 TAKE-AWAYS FROM SCIENCE IN THE CITY

There is time to experience, and then there is time to reflect. A week after Science in the City set Valletta abuzz, some inspiration stays with us. Here are some of the selected picks.

1. Talk to your friends – they may inspire your next discovery

Until a friend complained, it did not occur to Dr Marvin Bugeja of the University of Malta that some wheelchair users might need a simple addition to the vital instrument of their mobility – a remote control. However, hearing from his wheelchair-using friend that it would be nice to store the wheelchair in the corner of his bedroom after lying down to bed, the engineer and his team set off to build a smart wheelchair. Eventually the device got equipped with a computer that helps it prevent collision. The team is now working to make it lighter and hope to commercialise it.

2. You are destroying the planet more than you think

“Your score is quite average,” a person in charge of the interactive carbon footprint calculator tried to comfort me after the screen displayed 3.4 – this is how many planets humanity would need if everyone was to live like me. Average? Moi? Are all the efforts like plastic-free shopping, recycling and refusing to drive, for nothing? Indeed, all these small steps are cancelled out by multiple flights here, there and everywhere.

Individual recycling efforts will never make up for the expansion of single-use plastics in the industry, catering, hospitality and everywhere else. At another stand, children are invited to look at microplastics through a microscope. “Do we want to eat those? No! They’re bad for us. Will you recycle?” one of the educators asks the children playfully. As important as it is, remember: if you like satisfy your wanderlust several times a year, it’s as if you’ve never recycled.

3. Many children probably wish school was like this

From restoration of ancient pots, interactively explained by Heritage Malta, to the structure of jaws; from types of blood cells illustrated using different types of candy to a locally built drone, children were visibly excited by the hands-on experience. In the courtyard of the president’s palace, they also flocked to colour environmentalist cartoons, printed in order to keep the young audience engaged while adults listened to a presentation of Marie Briguglio‘s and Steve Bonello’s new book, No man’s land. The waste management authority hired playful educators to chat with children about reducing waste and protecting our oceans.

It’s a good opportunity to stop and think: why does regular schooling have to be about sitting still and feeling anxious about tests? If only school was about hands-on experience of science, perhaps fewer children would leave it prematurely (Malta suffers from a high drop-out rate compared to most EU countries), and more would become young inventors? Speaking of which, Esplora’s competition is still open.

Science in the City is a part of the EU-funded initiative, Researchers’ Night, which happens in all EU countries on the same day. Let’s hope that the research community, too, was inspired to go out and show their work more often – clearly, people love it.