The Slovenia Times

Jožef Stefan Days evince keen interest in science

Boštjan Zalar, director of the Jožef Stefan Institute. Photo: Katja Kodba/STA
The Jožef Stefan Institute, the country's leading scientific research institution, opens its doors wide to the public for a week every year to present scientific achievements in accessible ways. This is especially important at a time when it is often difficult to separate quasi-science from science, the institute's director Boštjan Zalar writes in an opinion piece for the Slovenia Times.

The 32nd Jožef Stefan Days took place from 18 to 23 March at the Jožef Stefan Institute, the largest scientific research institute in Slovenia.

In recent years, marked by crises and cutbacks, researchers have become acutely aware of the importance of ongoing and approachable communication with the general public about science and its achievements - especially now that we are living in a world saturated by media, where it is difficult to separate quasi-science from science, and "internetism" from intellectualism.

The lectures, given by members of the Institute's staff who have received national awards for their achievements in the past year, and by eminent researchers from abroad, covered many of the research areas in which our institution is active: fundamental particle physics, new materials, neuroscience, biochemistry. We also looked at research from a more relaxed perspective, with a stand-up show of experiments and a panel discussion on how to make science fun.

Naturally, we also talked about the latest trends in technological development which already have, and will continue to have, a major impact on the development of society in the future. Two other round tables were dedicated to the disruptive nature of artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and the transition to renewable energies, and to nuclear energy research in the light of the new geopolitical reality.

The Institute's public outreach ended, as tradition dictates, with an Open Day which attracted visitors of all generations. They were able to choose from a wide range of programmes at two locations. These covered virtually all areas of our work, from physics and reactor technology, through chemistry, materials, biology, biochemistry and the environment, to electronics and information technology.

The younger generation of guests were particularly fascinated by the antics of our research robots. We were pleased to see that, at least judging by the feedback we have received, we managed to present the research on fundamental particles that we carry out in international collaborations at accelerators abroad in a sufficiently accessible way that the lay public could understand.

More than 700 people visited the experimental nuclear reactor at Brinje, probably in part due to the media coverage of nuclear energy and the ongoing public debate on the construction of a new nuclear power station. The new permanent exhibition on energy and nuclear technology at the Nuclear Technology Education Centre, located near the reactor, also attracted attention.

I am confident that we have succeeded in raising awareness in the Slovenian public about the importance of investing in research and technological development, at least for a week and hopefully for the longer term. We are counting on the young generation in particular, and hope that many of them will choose a career in research and join us as colleagues or collaborators in the future.

See you next year!

More from Opinion