PR 15-2000: ESA, CERN and ESO launch Physics on Stage
1 March 2000Physics is Everywhere!The laws of physics govern the Universe, the Sun, the Earth and even our own lives. In today's rapidly developing society, we are becoming increasingly dependent on high technology - computers, transport, and communication are just some of the key areas that are the result of discoveries by scientists working in physics.
But how much do the citizens of Europe really know about physics? Here is a unique opportunity to learn more about this elusive subject!
Beginning in February 2000, three major European research establishments  are organising a unique Europe-wide programme to raise the public awareness of physics and related sciences.
"Physics on Stage" is launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), with support from the European Union (EU). Other partners include the European Physical Society (EPS) and the European Association for Astronomy Education (EAAE).
This exciting programme is part of the European Week for Science and Technology and will culminate in a Science Festival during November 6-11, 2000, at CERN, Geneva.
Why "Physics on Stage"?
The primary goal of "Physics on Stage" is to counteract the current decline in interest and knowledge of physics among Europe's citizens by means of a series of highly visible promotional activities. It will bring together leading scientists and educators, government bodies and the media, to confront the diminishing attraction of physics to young people and to develop strategies to reverse this trend.
The objective in the short term is to infuse excitement and to provide new educational materials. In the longer term, "Physics on Stage" will generate new developments by enabling experts throughout Europe to meet, exchange and innovate.
"Physics on Stage" in 22 European Countries
"Physics on Stage" has been initiated in 22 European countries . In each country, a dedicated National Steering Committee (NSC) is being formed which will be responsible for their own national programme.
"Physics on Stage" is based on a series of high-profile physics-related activities that will inform the European public in general, and European high school physics teachers and media representatives in particular, about innovative ways to convey information about physics. It will stress the intimate connection of this natural science with our daily lives. It will be accompanied by a broad media debate on these subjects.
This effort is undertaken in the context of a progressive decline in physics literacy amongst the European population at all levels and ages. Fewer and fewer young people are attracted towards careers in core sciences and technologies - this could potentially lead to a crisis in European technology in the coming decades unless action is taken now. Too few people possess the basic knowledge that is necessary to understand even common physical phenomena. And not enough are able to form their own substantiated opinions about them.
What will happen during "Physics on Stage"?
During the first phase of "Physics on Stage", from now until October 2000, the individual national steering committees (NSC) will survey the situation in their respective countries. The NSCs will collaborate with national media to identify new and exciting educational approaches to physics. These may involve demonstrations, interactive experiments, video and CD-Rom presentations, web applications, virtual reality, theatre performances, etc.
Nationally run competitions will select some of the best and most convincing new ideas for presentations and educational materials which will receive development support from "Physics on Stage".
The project will culminate in November 2000, with approximately 400 delegates converging on CERN, in Geneva, for the "Physics on Stage" conference. The conference will enable the national competition winners, science teachers, science communicators, publishers, top scientists and high-level representatives of the ministries and European organisations to brainstorm solutions to bolster physics' popularity. The programme will also include spectacular demonstrations of educational tools; the best will be disseminated over the national TV networks and other media to the European public.
Why ESA, CERN, and ESO?
As Europe's principal organisations in physics research (particle physics, space and astronomy), the three recognised their mutual responsibility to address the issue with the launch of a new initiative and the creative use of their own research to attract the attention of the general public and teachers alike.
About the "European Science and Technology Week"
The objective of the "European Science and Technology Week" is to improve the public's knowledge and understanding of science and technology - including the associated benefits for society as a whole. The week focuses on the European dimension of research, such as pan-European scientific and technological co-operation.
The rationale for holding the Week has its roots in the importance of the role of science and technology in modern societies and the need therefore, to ensure that the public recognises its significance in our lives.
The Week is a framework for special TV programmes, exhibitions, contests, conferences, electronic networking, and other science related activities to promote the public understanding of science and technology.
The Week was launched in 1993, on the initiative of the European Commission. Raising public awareness of science and technology is now the subject of a clearly defined action within the Human Potential Programme of the Fifth Framework Programme.
 The same press release is published also by CERN and ESO.
 The 22 countries are the member countries of at least one of the participating organisations or the European Union: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
Statements by the Directors
Antonio Rodotà (ESA): "Space has become an integral part of every day life. The immense technological development that has led to this achievement has taken place and might be taken for granted. But now is the time to follow up and form the future on this basis, a future that has to be made by the youth and has to give its benefits to the youth. The European Space Agency is dedicated to support the youth in its development to become a space generation. Many activities have been done and are taking place, and many more are planned for the future. Teachers and educational institutions and organisations form a key role in this development. ESA is enthusiastic about co-operating with ESO, CERN and the European Union to create an opportunity to receive ideas from the educational society and will perform a dedicated effort in finding ways to support the realisation of those ideas."
Luciano Maiani (CERN): "Science is a critical resource for mankind and, among natural sciences, physics will continue to play a crucial role, well into the next century. The young people of Europe deserve the best possible physics teaching. An enormous resource of first class teachers, teaching materials and innovative thinking exists in our Countries. The "Physics on Stage" project will bring these together to generate a new interest in physics education which will be to the long term benefit of children all over Europe. CERN is delighted to take part in this collaboration between the European Community and the continent's three leading physics research organisations."
Catherine Cesarsky (ESO): "Astronomy and Astrophysics are at the very heart of modern physics. As vibrant research disciplines they use the most advanced technology available to humanity to explore Cosmos. It is also a science of extreme conditions - the largest distances, the longest periods of time, the highest temperatures, the strongest electrical and magnetic fields, the highest and lowest densities and the most extreme energies. Cosmos is indeed the greatest physics laboratory.
For years, ESO - Europe's Astronomy Organisation - has been engaged in communicating the outcome of the exciting research programmes carried out at the ESO observatories to a wide audience and in particular to Europe's youth. I warmly welcome the broad international collaboration within "Physics on Stage". I am confident that working together with the European Union and our sister organisations ESA and CERN, as well as teachers' organisations and dedicated individuals in all member countries, this innovative education programme will make a most important contribution towards raising the interest in fundamental research in Europe."
About ESA, CERN, and ESO
The European Space Agency (ESA) is an international/intergovernmental organisation made of 15 member states: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. ESA provides and promotes, for peaceful purposes only, co-operation among its member states in space research, technology and their applications. With ESA, Europe shapes and shares space for people, companies and the scientific community.
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) is an intergovernmental organisation supported by Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland. Portugal has an agreement with ESO aiming at full membership. ESO is a major driving force in European astronomy, performing tasks that are beyond the capabilities of the individual member countries.
The ESO observatory La Silla in Chile is one of the largest and best-equipped observatories in the world.
ESO's Very Large Telescope Array (VLT), an array of giant telescopes, is under construction at Cerro Paranal in the Chilean Atacama Desert. When completed in 2001, the VLT will be the largest and best optical telescope in the world.
The CERN, European Organisation for Nuclear Research has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, Turkey, the European Commission and Unesco have observer status.