Leiden University: Leiden2022: a science festival bursting with activities

Classical Antiquity has long been considered the cradle of our civilisation. The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have been so exceptionally gifted that they were the pioneers of our Western culture. Archaeologist Miguel John Versluys will be debunking that cliché on Tuesday 18 January. ‘It’s rather outdated, a projection of nineteenth-century ideas about nation states and western superiority. I will argue that there was a globalisation explosion in the first millennium BC. People, ideas and objects from all corners of the world came together around the Mediterranean Sea. Everything collided and people had to work with those differences. That led to innovation and a breakthrough in human history.’

Deeper insight
Does Versluys’s lecture have a message for today? It’s not that simple, he says, but deeper insight into the long sweep of world history can help see the current period in a more perspective. And that is the value of a public festival as far as he is concerned. ‘Showing how fundamental science is – also knowledge of the distant past – to the conversations we are having now.’

Main partner
Leiden University is one of the main partners of Leiden City of Science, and many researchers are contributing. AI expert Joost Broekens will kick off the event on 2 January with, ‘So you think you can robot?’, a talent show in which you can learn to control a robot. And on Monday 31 January there is a symposium at Naturalis Biodiversity Center about the application of research into the brain and behaviour.

Questions for science
Margaret Gold, the coordinator of the Citizen Science Lab, will be active behind the scenes not on a single day but the whole year long. People can put their questions to science through all sorts of channels: from Twitter to old-fashioned letterboxes on the backs of tuk-tuks. Gold and her team will collect and sort the questions. Some will be answered during the daily radio hour in the morning on Radio Weetlust and others during one of the activities. But the best answer according to Gold is: ‘Come on, let’s find it out together.’

Citizen science
The idea is that the Leiden City of Science is also a festival of citizen science. The people of Leiden can be researchers themselves, and fill in the gaps left by professional science. There is a lot of valuable knowledge among citizens, says Gold. ‘Take people’s own experiences of mental resilience during a pandemic or knowledge about how biodiversity has changed. For me the challenge isn’t just to provide answers but above all to ensure people enjoy discovering new things with others.’

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