Professor Ryszard Koziolek: European Science City Katowice 2024 proves that science is a great public intellectual enterprise

The professor talks about the first impacts of several months of activities targeting residents, scientists and decision-makers. Ryszard Koziolek, Rector of the University of Silesia – the university that leads the Academic Union – Katowice City of Science.

I don’t think a day goes by without organizing an event under the slogan of European Science City. Have you seen any effects of these procedures yet?

Professor Ryszard Koziolek: Everyday events, especially those surrounding the 50 Weeks in Science City initiative (hundreds of popular science projects on topics that change every week – note), bring science into the public eye of many people – this is its most important impact so far, and we cannot predict With its full effects yet. The issue of science was imposed not only on the residents of the region, but also on many of the stakeholders influencing its future, namely local government authorities, businessmen, and leaders of public life. All too often I hear politicians weave the topic of science into their statements. Thus, what we scientists have been dreaming of for years has been achieved. Science has become the main tool for transforming the region.

The scientific program for Silesia, which was announced at the beginning of this year, also fits into the theme of the region’s development. A letter of intent to this effect was signed by representatives of the universities that make up the Academic Consortium – Katowice Science City (seven public universities and the authorities of Katowice and the region) and the Łukasiewicz Centre. What are the program hypotheses and what is the importance of launching it in the year of the European Science City?

The Science Program for Silesia is perhaps the most important way to apply science to the development of the region, and certainly one of the most important lasting impacts of the European Science City Katowice 2024.

The main assumption is to create a new model for financing scientific research in areas fundamental to the development of the region. Until now, funds for such research have come primarily from individual university budgets or have been obtained from the state budget as part of science funding through grant programmes. We want to create a fund that will bring together money from different sources: the university, the state budget, but also from European, local government and private sources. This complex will fund research to help solve the most important problems facing the people of our region, for example those related to the environment, youth migration, energy conversion, or revitalizing spaces destroyed by heavy industry. From among these proposals, also sent by the citizens themselves, the Scientific Council will select the proposals that it deems most important for implementation in a given year. Then, scientists – not only from the region, but also from across the country and beyond – will be able to apply for these funds through open competitions.

When will the program start?

I hope that we will announce the first competition this fall. In the beginning, our budget will be modest, perhaps not exceeding PLN 5 million, but the most important thing is this precedent on the Polish scale.

One of the basic assumptions of this year’s celebration of the European Science City is to bring science closer to society. After these few months, can it be seen that these worlds are moving closer together and that the inhabitants themselves are already looking at science differently?

Yes, this change is obvious. Until now, these two fields—the scientific world and society—have existed side by side, approaching each other with some caution. Scientists often feel like they are stuck in a hermetic environment, dealing with problems that are incomprehensible and uninteresting to most people. In contrast, a portion of society does not fully know or understand what scientists really do – people who are sometimes viewed as principled or even arrogant. Our initiatives show that both sides are interesting to each other and are getting closer to each other.

I also see interest in science and knowledge among the population, which makes me very happy. The annual Silesian Science Festival Katowice, without which we would not have the title of European Science City, attracts crowds of people who want to either have clever fun or learn something new. However, one event was no longer enough for us, and we wanted to achieve such a permanent state that scholars in our academic spaces and those at the intersection of university and city, could meet the public and talk freely to each other – and not just once a year, but every day. Thanks to this, the scientific side can listen to the needs of citizens or institutions and respond to them on an ongoing basis, and citizens have the opportunity to actively participate in this scientific process, starting from the position of the passive recipient of the content. Only in this way can knowledge and science become an integral part of public life and a great public intellectual institution. This is starting to happen in Katowice.

So we moved on to the topic of citizen science – another important topic in the European Science City. Is anything actually happening in this regard?

Community and engagement were actually the impetus for our thinking about the European Science City. When during the pandemic we could not organize the Silesian Science Festival in Katowice indoors, we decided to organize it outdoors, or more precisely – along the Rawa River, which flows, among other things, next to the university campus. Then we saw thousands of people walking around, talking to each other and listening to each other. Thus was born the idea of ​​creating a green scientific area, located along the streets of Rawa, which would be a space that would integrate different social groups – not only in terms of scientific research, but also in terms of being together. I am fully convinced that the so-called third mission of universities, that is, cooperation with the social and economic environment, will play an increasingly important role in the coming decades and will be a concrete justification for financing public universities.

Now let’s turn to the academic community. Do you see any change happening in the scientific community of the universities that make up the Academic Union – Katowice City of Science?

naturally. This is evidenced, for example, in the number of scientists who are involved in organizing various popular science projects. In previous editions of the Silesian Science Festival in Katowice, more than a thousand scientists from my university – the University of Silesia – participated. Now, as part of the European Science City activities, this number will be even greater. A similar trend was also observed in other universities affiliated with the federation.

What does it come from?

I think that we, as scientists, not only see meaning and benefit in all these endeavors and sharing our knowledge, but it gives us a lot of joy. After all, we love and want to be listened to not only by our colleagues or students, but also by society.

And students also benefit in one way or another from the activities within the European Science City? Do they feel they are participating in something unusual and important?

Many of them participate in the activities, either as volunteers or as members of student science clubs. The peculiarity of Silesian universities is that students often move from their hometown and leave the university after completing their lessons. Therefore, we would like the accommodation base in Katowice to be enriched with additional dormitories to keep students in the city also outside of classes. This will be another lasting impact of the European Science City.

The first half of the European Science City ends with the international conference EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), which is one of the highlights of the entire celebration. This event is mainly aimed at the scientific community, but will the residents of Katowice and the region also find something for themselves in the programme?

The ESOF conference is actually primarily a scientific event. This does not mean that all topics will be presented in strict language and at a level that does not allow communication with non-specialists. Therefore, we invite everyone who wants to meet and listen to distinguished scholars from various fields from Poland and from all over the world to participate. The program will also include popular science events, for example a discussion about trying to predict what science will do in the coming decades.

Are you already convinced that the seed has been planted and that interest in science will not end after this year?

I am convinced that this will be the case. We have done something extraordinary in the region – we have made residents realize the value of having such dynamic research centers around them, which has become a matter of regional pride. We also showed how universities can collaborate with each other, thinking not only about their environment, but also about the benefits of science for citizens.

European Science City 2024 – University of Silesia

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