The 2014 Speed Sciences

100 Youngsters at the Académie des Sciences

The Académie des Sciences held on 11 October 2014 at the Institut de France the second edition of Speed Sciences, an event aimed at youngsters aged 16 to 20. 100 youngsters from all over France have been selected for their answers to a set of questions on the website of the Académie des Sciences. They have been chosen for the high quality of their answers, the relevance of their reflection and their interest for science. Conceived by the Académie des Sciences, this operation fulfils two main objectives and one ambition: to improve the readability of science despite its often high complexity, and, by explaining the scientific method, inspire vocations for later in life.
At the morning conference debates, hosted in the Great Hall of Sessions, youngsters may form an ever more accessible notion of the various scientific fields. In 2014, three members of the Académie lend themselves to the exercise: Yves Agid shared his very last neurology research studies on abnormal involuntary emotions; Étienne Ghys tackled the task to demonstrate that the ball of the Football World Cup was in fact...a cube; and Bernard Roques reviewed the work of pharmacologists to relieve pain.
As for the afternoon face-to-face discussions, they provide researchers with unique opportunities to remind and insist that an appropriate understanding of the scientific method is a prerequisite to developing a critical mind, which is useful to all aspects of the citizens' lives. During these speed meetings, each youngster had the chance to meet about ten scientists: each time a new opportunity for them to ask direct questions.
On the end of the day, both youngsters and scientists answered a satisfaction questionnaire, and success was indeed there. The members of the Académie, in their great majority, are willing to be involved again in this original operation, whose next session shall take place in 2016. They have expressed enthusiasm about their meetings with youngsters - meetings which, in 20% of cases, have led to email exchanges. Thus, the idea emerged to pursue such exchanges during the rest of the academic year, especially with cycles of conference debates in the young participants' high schools, as a form of mentoring.

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When youngsters appraise science and their actors...

In preparation for the 2014 Speed sciences, the Académie des Sciences ordered the "Youngsters and Science" survey to the CSA market research agency and consultancy.
A majority of the youngsters expresses interest for science (76 %) and considers it useful to society, in the service of everyday life and important for everyone's future (92 %), yet 23 % of them still feel some indifference to it, or even fear against it. Similarly, although a majority of them (65 %) find interesting their science courses, only 33 % contemplate scientific careers. Yet researchers win praises: 95 % of the surveyed youngsters have a positive image of them and 63 % find researchers "open" to the world outside. Certain clichés persist, though: 85 % of the youngsters agree with the idea that scientists sometimes play sorcerers' apprentices!
This survey, filled with information, thus concludes on the youngster's hesitant relation to science but confirms that scientists themselves are relied upon. This good opinion probably explains why Speed Science raises such an interest, and spurs the Académie des Sciences on to intensify its openness policy towards the non-scientific public.