BRINGING SCIENCE AND SOCIETY CLOSER TOGETHER AND PROMOTING SCIENTIFIC VOCATIONS: AN EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE WITHIN THE MADRID SCIENCE AND INNOVATION WEEK
Making the theoretical and practical work carried out in laboratories and research centers comprehensible to citizens produces culture, participation, innovation and wellbeing. In this way, the techniques, tools and language used for involving the general public in topics with no apparent relation with their everyday life have been gradually refined over time. Scientific dissemination is an important tool for expanding the frontiers of knowledge, as it fuels a virtuous circle, which allows researchers to reach society and citizens to reap the rewards of society’s investment in research. In this regard, Madrid Science and Innovation Week is a major event designed to contribute to cultural growth globally. Its objective is to bring science and technology closer to citizens, especially young people, and to promote scientific vocations and creativity, eliminating gender barriers. This event is held annually and includes hundreds of events, which are open to the public and organized with the support and coordination of regional, provincial and municipal administrations. This year our research group belonging to Complutense University of Madrid organized an activity entitled “why do we age?” in which we first explained the theoretical basis of the aging process and then we took the participants to the lab, where they had to perform an experiment and analyze the results. The activity was open to the general public but high-school students were given priority. Our aim was, on one hand, to make our research visible and comprehensible to citizens, and on the other hand, to stimulate scientific vocations, in particular in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas in which, in a close future, there will be lack of graduate professionals. Approximately 80 people took part in our activity, being 90% of them high school students. Although some of them reported that the theoretical part resulted too difficult to understand, the vast majority of the participants showed great interest and engagement throughout the entire activity. In addition, all participants enjoyed the lab part and, having started with a skeptical attitude, they were surprised very positively to be able to carry out an experiment autonomously. High school students showed particular excitement and even some manifested their intention to study a degree related to the STEM areas in the future. In conclusion, our experience was very positive for both professors, who felt involved in a different and rewarding activity, and participants, who displayed interest during the activity and gratitude at the end of it.