Naked in Croatia - The Naked Scientists Bare All

23 April 2018
Posted by Jacinta Delhaize.

 

The Naked Scientists recently went on tour to Croatia! Over the next few weeks you'll have the chance to find out what The Naked Scientists' Dr Chris Smith got up to while he was there. He saw the sights, chatted with the nations’ scientists, students and leaders and dazzled everyone with an explosive live show! In this post (the first of the series) you'll find out what brought him to Croatia and the special role he played in the country's inaugural Science-Meets-Government meeting.

 

The story begins...

The Narrator

First off, allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jacinta Delhaize and I will be your friendly narrator throughout this article. I’m an astrophysicist originally from Perth in Western Australia. I’ve been working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Zagreb in Croatia for the past four years and have had some pretty great adventures of my own.

Croatia is an incredibly beautiful country in central Europe and the capital city, Zagreb, is a really cool place to live and work. However, Croatia is experiencing a significant ‘brain drain’ and the people of Croatia are not always exposed to the same opportunities as those in larger, more developed countries. This is particularly true in the areas of science and science communication.

I think it’s essential for any community to be engaged with the research being conducted locally and globally, to understand the importance of critical thinking and the scientific method, and to have access to diverse and fresh ideas.

To help with this, I wanted to use my connections as an international scientist to run a large, world-class science communication event in Zagreb. So I teamed up with the amazing people at the Australian Embassy in Croatia, who agreed to sponsor and co-organise the initiative, and we started to plan.

Naked in Croatia

The organisers and I put our heads together. Who should we invite to Croatia for our science event? Well, who better than The Naked Scientists!? (Yes, of course we’re big fans of the show!)

So we reached out to Dr Chris Smith, creator and co-host of The Naked Scientists. As well as being a scientist and superstar science communicator with bucket loads of enthusiasm and experience, Chris also has a close connection with Australia. He holds an Adjunct Professorship at Murdoch University in my home state of Western Australia and is also the science correspondent for Australia’s ABC Radio National.

To our enormous excitement, Chris agreed to join us in Zagreb to dazzle, delight and discuss science with a whole range of audiences!

We applied for and received funding for the event from the Australian Federal government. We also teamed up with the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Science, the Ruđer Bošković Institute and the British Embassy in Croatia to support and co-host the planned activities.

And thus, ‘The Naked Scientists in Croatia – A Science Affair’ was born. It was a two-day science communication extravaganza held in Zagreb on October 24-25th 2017 and was jam packed with totally awesome science experiences for the public, students, researchers and policy makers of Croatia.

According to Chris, "Some of the best opportunities for the Naked Scientists have emerged over the years through visiting new places and meeting new people. Visiting South Africa for a small conference 10 years ago led to a relationship with a major radio network and the creation of a major footprint in Southern Africa. Our input has enriched the lives of people there, and equally, their contributions enriches the listening experiences for people across the rest of the world. Equally, visits to New Zealand, China, and Singapore have led to the creation of powerful content and some wonderful friendships. And had I not ventured to Australia in 2004 right at the start, we'd not be having this conversation at all, and I would never have been invited to Croatia. So, I went to Croatia because I'd never been, it sounded like a challenge and a chance to meet new people and tell the world about what goes on there."

Over the next few weeks I'll be publishing a series of posts recounting the tale of each exciting event we held during Chris' visit and giving you a behind-the-scenes look at what it was like to hang out with The Naked Scientists.

This time I'll tell you what happened when the scientists and politicians of Croatia encountered each other...


Above: Chris and Jacinta at The Naked Scientists studio in Cambridge. We met to start planning Chris’ trip to Croatia.

When science meets government

‘The Naked Scientists in Croatia – A Science Affair’ kicked off with one of the key events. It was – to the best of our knowledge – the very first official ‘Science-Meets-Government’ round table discussion ever held in Croatia.

The idea was to emulate a similar ‘Science-Meets-Parliament’ event that takes place in Australia each year, but to make it useful and relevant in the Croatian context. Several representatives from the Croatian scientific community and from the Croatian government met for a lively conversation about the state of science in the country and to learn more about one-another’s roles.

The session was hosted at the official residence of the Australian Ambassador to Croatia, H.E. Elizabeth Petrovic. It was attended by members of Parliament, the Ministry of Science and Education and the Agency for Science and Higher Education. The attending scientists were from a range of seniority levels (from postdoctoral researchers to professors and Heads of Department) and also a broad range of scientific fields such biophysics, electronics, mathematics and geophysics.

The session began with each of the fourteen participants giving a short introduction describing who they are, what they do, what they would like to discuss and what they could contribute to the conversation.

Dr Chris Smith, our expert communicator, acted as the facilitator of the meeting and brought an international perspective to the table. He kicked off the discussion by highlighting a few key themes for us to focus on. From here the conversation flowed naturally, with all participants engaging enthusiastically.

Above: Chris (in the foreground) opens the inaugural Croatian Science-Meets-Government round table discussion at the Australian Ambassador’s residence in Croatia. Scientists (on the left) and members of government (on the right) got the chance to meet and chat face-to-face.

The conversation largely focused on the challenge of helping Croatian scientists, particularly those in junior positions, to more easily integrate into the international community. This is essential as it allows cross-border transfer of knowledge and ensures that Croatian science stays internationally competitive.

We discussed possible avenues for scientists to gain access to funding for travel and collaboration. We also discussed how to alleviate difficulties imposed by differences between the science systems in Croatia and in other countries.

I’m proud of what we achieved during this inaugural Science-Meets-Government session. All participants agreed that they would like the event to happen again next year. This is a great outcome as it indicates that both sides have an eager interest in continuing the conversation, maintaining communications, consider these issues important and appreciate the positive impact that a thriving scientific community has on the wider society. I'd love to see this sort of thing happen again regularly with growing numbers of participants.

My hope is that events like this will allow members of government to gain an understanding of the career path and difficulties faced by scientists, and for scientists to gain an insight into the processes and pressures involved in government. This may help the two groups work together more effectively in the future to make positive changes to the Croatian scientific environment. It may also provide avenues for creating further science-based policies.

Ambassador Petrovic also liked the spirit of collaboration that the meeting promoted. She said “science and innovation, sharing scientific knowledge, is important to everyone. The Australian National Innovation and Science Agenda is encouraging our best and brightest minds to work together to find solutions to real world problems and to create jobs and growth”.

Above: All participants of the inaugural Science-Meets-Government in Croatia. From left to right: Dr Ana Sović Kržić, Dr Josip Hrgović, Dr Tomislav Burić, Dr Saša Ceci, Dr Jacinta Delhaize, HE Elizabeth Petrovic, Dr Chris Smith, Dr Fabio Faraguna, Marija Puh MP, Dr Ana Sunčana Smith, Staša Skenzić, Dr Josip Stipčević, Dr Tomislav Sokol MP, Dr Hrvoje Buljan, Bojan Glavašević MP.

Coming up...

Want to find out some of the special science communication secrets of The Naked Scientists? In the next instalment of 'Naked Scientists Bare All in Croatia,' Chris reveals some of his tricks of the trade. Coming soon! Join us then to find out more.

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