Falling Walls is a global science engagement platform, inspired by the abolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989. For over a year and a half, rather than reunite a country, their goal has been to pull down the wall between science and society all around the globe. Marie Mühlmann, Head of the Falling Walls Engagement program, is passionate about the venture, “We want to support science engagers and entrepreneurs by giving them a platform to exchange and meet in different parts of the world.”
The platform helps some of the most promising research-based start-ups, nominated by worldwide academic institutions, get funding and recognition. Every year, an event welcomes pioneering initiatives that have successfully transformed science into businesses. It is an opportunity to soak up ideas and learn from the experience of others.
“We want to show that science engagement is relevant for science and scientists,” explains Marie Mühlmann. “It is not just a nice add-on to work in the lab. It really benefits research. Integrating non-scientists to discuss questions, problems and challenges helps grasp different aspects of a project.”
As a non-STEM scientist, Marie Mühlmann is particularly receptive to the role of humanities, too. “I’m not a scientist so to speak. I studied cultural studies and religion. Science topics often focus on STEM subjects, but there is also a growing interest in social sciences. In the future we would like to bring these together to see what they can learn from each other, and give social sciences a bigger platform in science engagement.”
Whilst her background could have been a barrier to Marie achieving her goals, she overcame that and asserts that she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I don’t always get where scientists are coming from, because of the different background knowledge, education or even character that they develop as a scientist,” she explains. “Sometimes when we have discussions or we’re planning events I don’t really grasp what they want. Maybe if I knew a bit more about the research world I would know how they work and it would be easier to tailor everything for them.”
Nevertheless, the diversity of thought and input adds to the success of the program. Having another line of reflection has enriched it and helped the concept grow to become the success that it is today. Above all, the accomplishment of Falling Walls comes from the science engagers themselves; their ideas, motivations and inspirations. Marie holds a deep respect for their efforts, “They put their heart into this work and I admire them for that. They work really hard, it’s something that our society should support more.”
Part of what makes them so successful is having a clear vision of what their target audience’s wants and needs are. By finding things they are interested in, it becomes easier to find ways to help others engage with scientific topics. “I am always surprised at how well they know their audience,” she adds. “There are so many ways to be involved and science engagers are so creative. They come up with new ideas every day.”
From reactions across the globe to the worldwide pandemic, it could be said that there is a lack of confidence in science at the moment. Hence, there is still a lot of work to be done. Marie sees this as an opportunity for scientists to share knowledge and make it more accessible, to strengthen faith in science. “The need for trust right now is immense. People need to trust what scientists say,” she says.
At least, if one thing, the situation has highlighted the importance of science and research to the public. “It shows that the work of science engagers is really important and will become even more important in the next couple of years,” said Marie. “And we want to inspire more and more scientists to engage.”
According to her, the most important thing is to find your own way of engaging. That means seeking styles that match your own interests, hobbies, or things you like to do. “Not every scientist likes to stand on stage or speak on the radio, but there are many other ways to engage,” she adds. “We want to encourage scientists to find their own way, everyone has something to share and their own approach to doing so.”
By showing everyone that science engagement is a relevant part of science, we will be able to win over governing bodies and institutions. Initiatives like the Hindawi Science Communication Guide will help in that direction. It is important that scientists are mindful of the stakes and understand the importance of sharing their science. Reading about it is part of the challenge. “The more people and scientists are aware and interested in science engagement, the closer we get to that goal,” Marie states.
We don’t only want walls to fall, but borders to be crossed. Science engagement is part of proving how entrepreneurial solutions can help solve some of today’s most pressing challenges. And it all starts by taking the science out of the lab.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.