May 13, 2019

The Talking Skyscraper

Have you ever been at the construction-site of a high-rise and experienced the sound-cocktail of machines, colliding materials, the blasting boom-boxes, shouting workers? And have you then returned to the same place years later; when the building is finished? Where are the echoes of these past sounds while you wait at the reception? What do you experience during an awkward elevator-ride? People with blank stares, no talking, maybe some music... but nothing, absolutely nothing audible from the past. Now have a closer look. See the scratches at the wall, maybe a sneaky footprint in the concrete behind an emergency-exit, a chipped wooden frame? Static traces from the past. Petrified life.
And now imagine a new construction-technique being introduced. Let some walls be written by massive 3D-printers, 'writing' threads of concrete layer by layer in quick scanning motion with preprogrammed perfection. All neat, all nice. And then modify the 3D-printer. You pick up the sound of the environment and send it to the nozzle of the printer. The sound acoustically modulates the thickness of the concrete-threads. The barely visible high-frequency modulation is similar to the modulated grooves in your beloved vinyl-records at home. Maybe a bit more pronounced. These ripples in the wall will persist once the concrete is dry and you could play back the record of past life with an appropriate scanner moving line by line across the wall and reading out the acoustic imprint.
Let's do it.
We will live in talking skyscrapers.

(inspired by exchanges with Norbert Palz about artistic experiments of Francoise Roche)

Dec 14, 2018

Go get them in the subway!

Science-festivals are booming, open house events are packed and it looks like every science-institution of class has to have an artist in residence program. At the same time ‚alternative facts‘ are part of a populist surge that globally shakes societies.
What are we doing wrong?

Conventional communication addresses those who are already interested in science. We are preaching to the converted. But if scientific knowledge is to show an effect for society ‚everybody‘ has to be reached - especially those who skip the science-part in the newspaper or wouldn’t lose sleep for a science-night.
In order to reach those ‚non-believers‘ Paul-Drude-Institut has brought MTL (a concept developed by the greek organization SciCo) to Berlin, presenting science of nine Leibniz-institutes and DLR in 5 subway stations. This experiment during Berlin Science Week  was new to everybody involved. Mercedes Reischel (transfer-manager at PDI) found a wonderful partner in Berlins BVG, the Science Week put MTL on the podium of the press-conference with the Major and all Leibniz-institutes showed enormous tolerance to the little hiccups such an experimental approach brings along.
Nobody had a clue: how do school-kids react to water fleas under a microscope? What touches the senior citizen who is confronted with wildlife research? What does the streetmusician ask the ultrasound-physicist?

The experience for all sides is enormous. This format is a small but important step to find new science-friends. And yes, we did help with physics homework…

(this appeared in VerbundJournal of Forschungsverbund Berlin)

Nov 4, 2018

How Does Knowledge Get Into Society? A fly-by-artist-in-residence and a Dialogue

The artist Sadie Weis was shadowing some of the scientists at Paul-Drude-Institut (a research-institute for nanomaterials) for eight weeks, observing the way they work, how scientists communicate with eachother, how they explain stuff to an outsider. The result of this dialogue is a light-installation and - maybe more important for the scientists involved - a reflection of the scientists  and of the artist on the languages they use. 
This project of an artist in a fly-by-residency will be wrapped up on Saturday, November 10th with a presentation by the artist Sadie Weis and a panel discussion on differences and similarities in the way artists and scientists communicate with the outside world

                November 10, 2018 from 14-18
                Paul-Drude-Institut für Festkörperelektronik
                Hausvogteiplatz 5–7, Berlin-Mitte

For the Dialogue, please register at 

Der Dialog wird auf Deutsch stattfinden
"Wie kommt das Wissen in die Gesellschaft?"
Sadie Weis, Künstlerin
Prof. Dr. Liane G. Benning, GFZ Potsdam
Prof. Dr. Norbert Palz, Vizepräsident der Universität der Künste, Berlin
Josef Zens, Leiter Medien und Kommunikation, GFZ Potsdam
Moderation: Dr. Carsten Hucho, Transfer, Paul-Drude-Institut, Berlin

Oct 21, 2018

How can your research have an impact, if you don't care about knowledge-transfer?

Research can be relevant but ineffective

One important difference between basic research and applied research is the time it takes for the generated knowledge to become effective in society. This effectiveness is generally measured in economic terms but is certainly much wider in scope. While it is obvious that application-driven research shows an effect in society much faster than fundamental research, the consequences of fundamental studies can be vastly bigger. The effects of application-oriented or application driven research tend to be rather incremental, while basic research has the potential to be truly disruptive.
But then -

The potential has to be 'activated' by knowledge transfer

No matter on which end of the scientific scale your research is located - and definitely independent of your personal preferences - the potential societal impact of research can be extremely high but a real impact being totally absent. Obviously, the knowledge gained has to be actively transferred into society. And this is another big difference between basic and applied research: application oriented science has the process for knowledge-transfer embedded in its strategy. Knowledge-transfer (here often referred to as technology-transfer) is already part of its fabric while for fundamental research it is generally not.
But only with adequate knowledge-transfer activities does knowledge have a chance to reach its target-audience. 
This transfer comprises of the audience-specific translation of research-based knowledge, which makes it usable. And only with adequate motivation and enabling of the potential recipient to understand the offer does the scientific knowledge that was so admirably transferred get absorbed and can be 'used'.

There simply is no impact of 'relevant' research without these complex transfer-activities.