World ORT marks International Science Day


20 March 2008 World ORT marks International Science Day Teenagers in six countries held the world of science in their hands last week as they took part in World ORTs programme for International Science Day. Hundreds of high schools students in Israel, France, Italy, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania were exposed to the significance of science in everyday life including the effects of drugs and alcohol on health and driving, insights into cancer research and chemical archaeology, lectures on communications and avionics, activities related to acoustics and ecology and an international quiz on the life and theories of Albert Einstein. World ORT used videoconferencing to link students and experts in the different countries in an exciting event timed to coincide with Einsteins birthday. Associate Professor Steve Gimbel, co-author of Defending Einstein: Hans Reichenbachs Early Writings on Space, Time and Motion, 1920-26, praised World ORTs initiative. I think its absolutely wonderful, Dr Gimbel said. Its very much in the spirit of Einsteins work and his general approach to life because he saw science as an international affair, that it was in the scientific community that you have very warm relations between different nationalities as a result of which you form a brotherhood of science that transcends the merely personal and political. An endeavour like World ORTs International Science Day, approaching the world through science, is also bringing together the world through science. And videoconferencing is exactly the sort of thing that would lead an internationalist like Einstein to say that you really could have connections, intellectual and personal, with people around the world. Dr Yakov Ronkin, World ORTs Research and Development Coordinator, said it was natural for World ORT, as a leading international institution in science and technology education, to want to celebrate International Science Day. The programme allows different countries to mark the day in different ways, Dr Ronkin said. The commonality is their devotion to open science to the general public, to demystify it. This is the first time that World ORT has held such an event and it was a great success in encouraging discussion of, and investigation into, science. I hope to make it an annual event. In Israel, nearly 2,000 students in three high schools in Kiryat Yam participated in the days events. Activities for 10th and 12th grade students were held at the Rodman High School, which is a focal point of World ORTs Science City mega-project, and two other schools. And 11th grade students, who are at the age when they are learning to drive, visited Madatech, the National Museum of Science, Technology and Space in Haifa where they learned about the damaging effects of drugs and alcohol on health and driving. Among the school activities were lectures on ecology by Shiran Ziv of KKL and science, exploration and astronomy by Dr Dana Lin-Barnet, a space engineer with Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. Nechama Kenig, Education Coordinator for the Kiryat Yam Science City project, said it had been a huge success. One child told me it had been her first visit to the science museum, Ms Kenig said. If we hadnt taken her then she may never have gone there. And, despite her preconceptions, she found it very interesting. She was just one example of how we opened a window to the scientific world. Students at the ORT Renzo Levi School in Rome were similarly inspired by a videoconference lecture delivered by Dr Elisabetta Boaretto, Director of the Radiocarbon and Cosmogenic Isotopes Laboratory at the Kimmel Centre of Archaeological Science, Weizmann Institute of Science. Carlo Santini, a maths, physics and computer science teacher at the school, said Dr Boaretto was a role model for his students, who were fascinated by her specialisation and its applications in archaeology and forensics. Its rare to be able to talk to someone like her, a fellow Italian who has made a scientific career and is working in a prestigious place doing very interesting research, Mr Santini said. Its important for students to hear scientists talk about their work it inspires them to do the same. Dr Boaretto enjoyed and valued what was her first opportunity to talk directly to students in Italy from her base in Israel. This kind of contact is so important, she said. Students are often afraid that science is too difficult because maths and physics are fields only for nerds and the super-intelligent. The fact is that there is this type of interdisciplinary study involving science and humanities, like I am involved in. You dont have to have this image of being locked in a laboratory it is interesting and fun. ORT students in Paris and Strasbourg were also able to access an elite scientific personality through a videoconference lecture presented by World ORT Deputy President Dr Jean de Gunzburg, a molecular biologist who directs a cancer research laboratory at the Curie Institute in Paris. Speaking in French, Dr de Gunzburg explained the causes and mechanics of cancer to teenagers, some of whom may be experimenting with cigarettes. We live surrounded by technology, which is based on science, so its good that we demystify whats around us, that we understand whats around us including medical and health issues, Dr de Gunzburg said. World ORTs burgeoning videoconferencing infrastructure also came into play with the holding of a quiz on the life and theories of Albert Einstein. The teams, from ORT schools in Moscow, Kiev and Vilnius studied the great scientist with teachers and amongst themselves. Each team was captained by a graduate of last years inaugural Raya Cowen ORT International Summer School at the Weizmann Institute. Dr Marina Moiseeva, Principal of the Moscow ORT Technology School, whose team won the competition, said the students continued their preparations for the quiz in their own time via the Internet. Events like this not only provide an incentive to learn, they also instil a sense of belonging to the ORT community, Dr Moiseeva said. Students and teachers are motivated and the school becomes more attractive to parents who are looking for a good school for their children. World ORT Director General Robert Singer said: The coordinated effort by World ORT to celebrate International Science Day has received praise from many lay leaders and ORT professionals worldwide. It is a good occasion to remember that Einstein himself spoke many times about the importance of ORT to the Jewish people. One such speech, made at a British ORT dinner before the war, has been issued by the British Library as an historic recording.