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Climate hoax, anti-vaxxers, nitrogen crisis – mistrust between science and the articulate public is growing. I-Lab-U is an invitation to bridge the abyss by speed-dating.
Photo from first trial at Erasmus MC (Photo: Helene Vidaki)

Climate hoax, anti-vaxxers, nitrogen crisis – mistrust between science and the articulate public is growing. I-Lab-U is an invitation to bridge the abyss by speed-dating.

Who said that earning a PhD is a lonely journey? Not anymore. PhD candidates and postdocs wanting to practice explaining their work to ‘ordinary people’ are invited to enlist for the first-ever scientific speed-dating event on campus called ‘I-Lab-U’ on February 28. Before that event, a first round will take place at 18:00 at Rotterdam Library on 24 January under the theme ‘The spark between us’.

I-Lab-U was the winner of last year’s competition on science communication by the Bataafsch Genootschap on the occasion of its 250th anniversary. The question was: how can the connection between scientists and the public be improved in an experimental way?

Dr Athina Vidaki, a postdoc in the field of epigenetics at Erasmus MC, proposed a speed-date between researchers and members of the audience. She drew her inspiration from her experience as a forensic science ambassador to talk about her research.

After a small trial at Erasmus MC, she received a lot of enthusiastic feedback, both from researchers and the audience. Here’s a selection.

  • “Talking in simple terms is still challenging for me, but definitely something that can be improved with experience over time. I loved the interaction and the curiosity of the public about my research!”
    Anthropologist, scientist
  • “I was intrigued by some of the questions from the public, not what I was expecting! Interacting directly with the public helped me see my research from a different perspective!”
    Virology researcher, scientist
  • “Finding common ground when talking to a non-expert public is important. Sometimes scientists start talking ’science’, but all they really do is talk to the public in another language! Sharing experiences with other scientists at the I-Lab-U event was useful!”
    Evolutionary geneticist, scientist
  •  “The I-Lab-U experience was a lot of fun, and I got the chance to ask some questions I had after watching CSI to a real forensic scientist!”
    Photographer, public
  • “I wish I had had more than five minutes with the scientists! But I got to have a drink with them afterwards and continue the chat. Would totally recommend it.”
    Social worker, public

According to Vidaki, I-Lab-U is a fun way to improve your communication skills. She and her team are looking for TU Delft researchers to meet the public.

  • I-lab-U, ‘The spark between us’, for discussions in topics like electrical engineering, neurobiology, robotics, behavioral and computer sciences. 24 January from 18:00, Rotterdam Library
  • I-lab-U, ‘Getting closer’, for discussions in topics like virology, microbiology, transport, astronomy, nanotechnology and psychology. 28 February from 18:00, TU Delft Library

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