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Bridging Worlds: The Crucial Role of Scientific Outreach at PDI

/ Opinion

At PDI, we recognize the profound importance of scientific outreach in fostering a connection between the research community and the world outside. In this article, we discuss why engaging with the community is so important for scientific institutions like ours.

For ten days in early November, we projected an animated artwork onto PDI's façade for Berlin Science Week 2023 (BSW). The work was created by Berlin-based artist Roland Boden, who used imagery generated in our molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) and semiconductor spectroscopy labs to visualize the interplay between order and disorder. This corner of Hausvogteiplatz was illuminated every evening with visuals that are easily recognized by the scientists and technicians in our labs, but alien to most passersby. By exhibiting the images in this way, they became larger-than-life abstract compositions open to interpretation in myriad ways. Similarly, at our multidisciplinary event From Order to Disorder and Back — featuring Icarus Performance, we brought together scientists, researchers, artists, and performers, from different scientific and artistic disciplines to explore common ground with an engaged public audience. The goal was not simply to teach and explain but to engage people with something new and unexpected and foster a renewed curiosity. 

As we wind down from our activities at BSW, we reflect on the importance of connecting with our community and facilitating new ways of sharing knowledge. For us, scientific outreach is not merely an option; it is a responsibility. By actively engaging with the broader community, we hope to contribute to a world where interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration can offer solutions to some of the world's greatest challenges. 

Breaking Down Barriers

In scientific research, jargon and complex terminology can act as barriers, distancing non-scientific audiences from the latest advancements in science. Outreach serves as the bridge that dismantles these barriers, making complex concepts accessible and engaging for a broader audience. At PDI, we believe in the power of demystifying science, inviting everyone to be a part of the conversation, especially those who may feel they are beyond reach. 

Fostering Curiosity

Curiosity is the engine that drives scientific inquiry, and it knows no age limits. By actively engaging with the community through outreach programs, PDI seeks to spark and nurture curiosity in individuals of all ages. Whether it's through tours, talks, or educational initiatives, we aim to ignite the flame of inquiry and inspire the next generation of scientists and thinkers.

Building Trust and Collaboration

Scientific outreach is not just about disseminating information; it's about building trust and fostering collaboration. By sharing our work with the public, we aim to create a transparent and inclusive dialogue. This transparency not only strengthens the bond between the scientific community and the public, but also encourages collaborative efforts to address shared challenges.

Cultivating a Scientific Culture

At PDI we believe in cultivating a culture where science is not confined to the laboratory but permeates every aspect of society. Through outreach initiatives, we strive to integrate science into the fabric of our community, encouraging an appreciation for the scientific method and the role it plays in shaping our collective future.   

Making Science Relevant

In our rapidly evolving world the relevance of scientific research is paramount. We recognize that by connecting our research with real-world challenges and everyday experiences, we can emphasize the tangible impact of scientific advancements. Through outreach efforts, we strive to showcase the practical applications of our work, demonstrating how science contributes to solving pressing global issues. Finally, we wish to raise awareness that the scientific principle itself — the controversy without conflict, openness for the next question, and respect for the diversity of opinion — is the very basis of a functioning society.

Many thanks to our colleagues and friends for their collaboration and support during our Berlin Science Week events this year. Special appreciation goes to our colleagues in the Microstructure and MBE labs at PDI for supporting the PDI Science facade visualization, and to Anabel Perez for photography at the event. Thanks to the co-organizers and participants of 'From Order to Disorder and Back': Nico Brodersen and the team at Berlin Science Week, Francisca Rocha Gonçalves, James Diamond, Johannes W. Goessling, David Bierbach (IGB), Manisha Biswas (Berlin School of Mind and Brain), Stefan Kroll (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt), Rainer Rehak (Weizenbaum Institute for the Networked Society), Martin Eder, Florian Ritter (photography), our colleagues at Leibniz-Institut für Kristallzüchtung (IKZ), Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Max Born Institute for Nonlinear Optics and Short Pulse Spectroscopy, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and the team at Holzmarkt25. Icarus Performance was supported by the Shuttle program from Ágora – Cultura e Desporto do Porto, E.M., S.A.