Now ESOF2014 Starts – Officially!
On Sunday was the ESOF opening ceremony. Outside, families were already roaming the "Science in the City" festival, and all stalls were in place.
Only the official go-ahead for the conference events was still missing - until about 15:30h, when the entire auditorium rose for that day's most notable speaker: Margarethe II, Queen of Denmark. She declared how honoured her country was to host this year's ESOF conference.
The Queen stayed not only for her short speech, but remained seated in the auditorium for over two hours, honouring the following speakers with her attention. Her presence seemed to exude a certain magic spell, perhaps one of the reasons why this opening ceremony was much more enjoyable than others.
The next speaker was José Manuel Barroso, not only President of the European Commission but also one of the worlds leading multitaskers: while still speaking, he already tweeted about his own speech:
His speech is documented here in full length. He said many things that were to be expected. But I also specifically remember that he talked about two important responsibilities for Europeans: to open career opportunities for female scientists ("whilst women hold 45% of all PhDs in Europe, they only represent 30% of career researchers"), and to make scientific careers attractive for young researchers - both topics kept resurfacing this evening. Apparently they seem to worry many people in charge.
Sofie Carsten Nielsen, the Danish Minister of Science, gave a casual and amusing speech, for instance when she combined the ceremony's title ("Science Building Bridges") with the Danish word for bridges ("broen") – the result being "Science is our bro."
But after this wordplay, she got serious and advocated Open Science, with the example of the Carlsberg brewery founder, in whose buildings ESOF takes place – and whose beer we keep drinking. In the past, he did not patent a novel approach to yeast processing that his laboratory had invented, and which would revolutionise the whole brewing trade. Instead, he published all details of his findings and even sent samples to his competitors. So in fact we owe the beer we enjoy today to an early Open Access approach.
The next contribution was for music lovers. But for me as a physicist, the highlight was the final discussion with two very eloquent and funny particle physicists Fabiola Gianotti and Rolf-Dieter Heuer.
What started as a discussion about the Higgs boson soon developed into a lecture about the future of physics ("We needed fifty years to understand five percent of the Universe. The remaining 95 percent sure leave us with enough to do!"). The two physicists also discussed the promoting of young researchers, the qualities of an excellent researcher (Gianotti: "curiosity, stubbornness and modesty"), as well as scientific communication. What both researchers said often complemented the statements of the other so perfectly that I sometimes couldn't recall who had said what.
Heuer explained how he thinks that we often underestimate the general public and that people are eager to understand science. To illustrate this, he told a small but memorable anecdote: During a taxi ride, he started talking about his work, he is the CERN director. The taxi driver knew immediately what he did: "I know what you are working on, I saw Angels and Demons!". When the audience groaned, Heuer silenced them with a hand signal and told how the taxi driver had continued: "After the movie, I wanted to know more. Now I visit your website every day!"
Yes, those are the very bridges we're talking about here.