Photo by Tim Mossholder | Unsplash
The 21st century is a time of many opportunities, but also numerous challenges related to the progress of science and technology. As part of the European City of Science 2024 and the planned 50 thematic weeks, we would like to focus on the most important topics of interest to contemporary society. We offer you 6 paths on selected issues, for which science can look for answers and solutions:
- Health and Quality of Life,
- Climate and Environment,
- Industries of the Future,
- Social Innovation,
- Industrial and Cultural Heritage,
- Creation and Criticism.
Health and Quality of Life
We draw inspiration for action from outstanding regional figures. We remember the dedication of Jolanta Wadowska-Król, a paediatrician, who in the 1970s started research on the exposure to lead poisoning of children living near the Szopienice Non-Ferrous Metalworks. Thanks to her work, treatment of thousands of young people at risk of this serious disease was organised, and additionally the decision was made to demolish the houses standing closest to the plant’s chimney. These actions greatly improved local people’s health and had a positive impact on the state of the environment.
Taking care of our physical and mental health should be our priority. Unfortunately, despite the development of modern medicine and the increase in the quality of life, we often do not know how to act in harmony with our body and we do not realise what is best for us. In recent years, we have struggled globally with a difficult pandemic situation that has damaged the health of many of us. At present, we are witnessing an equally dangerous situation – Russia’s war against Ukraine is raging just beyond our border.
Increasing access to health services and health education is the basis for sustainable development of the region and one of the objectives of the City of Science. It is also important to revitalise post-industrial areas so that they serve the local community as much as possible. Good public space planning and greening areas will allow people to spend free time in the open air.
Climate and Environment
Climate change and environmental pollution affect every person on Earth. Rising sea levels threaten to make hundreds of thousands of people inhabiting the coastal areas homeless. Severe weather events wreak havoc, causing huge financial losses, and the loss of biodiversity contributes to the reduction of human immunity and the impoverishment of ecosystems. In the case of our region, it is important to try to revitalise the environment destroyed by industry – formerly providing employment and driving development, and now perceived through the prism of damaged areas or disturbed watercourses (such as Rawa, “the river/non-river”).
It is the duty of Silesian universities and representatives of the authorities to undertake broad, multi-field cooperation in order to diagnose and propose solutions to the problems faced by the city and the region. Rawa, formerly a river – affected by years of neglect and struggling with the effects of environmental pollution – is at the same time an experiment and an instrument for transforming the centre of Katowice with the help of science.
Science has the tools to look for effective ways to deal with these challenges and enable people to adapt to the changing reality. As part of the Climate and Environment path, you will be able to learn more, among others on what a low-carbon economy is and how to implement it effectively. We also intend to introduce aspects related to the energy transformation and green energy, as well as explain what the circular economy is characterised by and how to ensure good water and air quality.
Industries of the Future
Our region is at the forefront of the great transformation, which stands at the threshold of another civilisational leap thanks to the new industry: science and academic education. Of course, it does not mean abandoning the unique identity of Silesia and Zagłębie Dąbrowskie, which originated thanks to the great industrial heritage of the region. On the contrary, high technical culture, the inhabitants handling advanced technology and work organisation for centuries, primacy of competencies and diligence in the assessment of a human being, and the resulting tolerance, provide great support in building the culture of innovation and smart industries. And just like centuries ago, the industry of science and education will attract employees and inhabitants from different parts of Poland and the world in the near future. In particular, the most talented young people from our region.
In recent months, artificial intelligence has been on everyone’s lips, thanks to the impressive tool that is ChatGPT and other programmes that amaze with the possibilities of creating content resembling those that come from the hands of man. We are witnessing a huge boom in modern technologies, which is why it is so important for us to ensure that the emerging solutions serve people without posing a threat to them.
The last decades have been a period of distinct technological changes, which may significantly improve the quality of life for many people. Robots are becoming more and more advanced and are used to support people in their work or become an indispensable help for seniors or people with disabilities, and when sent into space, they help us expand our knowledge and the limits of our cognition. As part of this path, we will look at the development of the digital economy and try to understand what Web 3.0 is. At the same time, we will not forget about the development of creative sectors, such as e-sport and gamedev.
Thinking about the industries of the future also led us to the observation that all other thematic paths of ECSK 2024 may result in new solutions. Topics related to health, climate, social innovation, creation and critique, as well as industrial heritage stimulate us to ask fascinating questions and search for extraordinary answers. As part of the considerations about the industries of the future, we will try to identify together all the questions that modern science may ask.
The pandemic has accelerated the process of social isolation, which is caused, among others, by social media and has led to the polarisation of attitudes. Difficulty in communication between people, different generations or people representing different values and worldviews is something we should work on intensively. We must strive to create a civil society in which we have a chance to tame divisions and conflicts.
The Silesian Voivodeship is a perfect example of how an entire region can undergo diametrical social changes. From an area strongly associated with industry, it has become a place that is increasingly focused on ecological solutions based on modern technologies. The most significant manifestations of this transformation include the establishment of Culture Zone with the new headquarters of the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, three top nationwide musical festivals (OFF Festival, Tauron New Music and relatively “young” Fest Festival) taking place here, as well as the success of Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE. How did we go through this transformation? We would like to reflect on this topic as part of the proposed path and draw attention to the fact that technological changes must also entail social changes. Science as a catalyst for change causes a reaction in the form of mobilisation of society around certain actions and ways of thinking.
We must ask ourselves how the City of Science should strengthen and develop social mobilisation around the above-mentioned institutions and initiatives, and how to emphasise the culture-forming role of science. We will look at how science can contribute to the identification of social needs, as well as how it affects the implementation of significant social changes in the region. We also want to present activities which are part of citizen science which provides an excellent opportunity for residents of the Silesian Voivodeship to gain a real impact on the work of scientists. The impact of citizens on the development of the region and enabling them to decide what the process of change should look like is also important. As part of the celebrations of the European City of Science 2024, certain elements of the programme will enable residents to get involved in research work.
Industrial and Cultural Heritage
Applied science, mining and heavy industry gave us modernity, a relatively high standard of living and work in addition to influencing the dynamic development of cities. This is how the civilizational attractiveness of Silesia and Zagłębie was created, which for two centuries drawn people from Poland and Europe. A unique technical culture was also born at that time – the effect of multi-generational efforts in an environment of complex machines and a layered division of labour. Industrial work became a social laboratory where the peaceful and effective cooperation of people of different cultures and languages was tested. This community is characterised by a lack of fear of machines and technology, a high level of technical competence and a tendency toward innovation, tinkering, home inventiveness – a kind of off science skills.
The heritage of Upper Silesia in the form of still present post-industrial areas is something that we should not be ashamed of. The mining culture and the specificity of the border region (at the junction of Polish, Czech, German and Silesian influences) are something that gives the entire voivodeship an amazing colour and richness of history and tradition.
The path will include all activities related to the broadly understood industrial and cultural heritage. One of the topics discussed will be the processes of socio-economic transformation in regions where heavy industry was present. There is no denying that coal plays a large role in our metropolis. It is worth looking at it from multiple perspectives, and not only as a of black lumps exploited in mines. In addition, the cultural goods preserved from our ancestors – the clothes of miners and steelworkers, the equipment they used at work or the places of production of goods – are a source of information about how previous generations lived, they also show the history of places and people who existed before us. We will also try to look at the extraordinary diversity of the region, in which part of the industrialisation processes involved going deep into the earth and constructing mines – building unique cities underground. We will also look at other forms of entrepreneurship that were not related to the mining or metallurgical industries.
Creation and Criticism
What is important is not only what is said, but also how. Children, youth and university students absorb knowledge, but does this content really arouse their curiosity and passion? Science can be presented in a way just as interesting as stories about alternative worlds or superheroes. After all, we all like good stories and we need someone to tell us them in an intriguing way.
As part of the ‘Creation and Criticism’ path, we want to focus on, among others: the issues of creating and conducting a narrative, but also critical reflection on the actions taken. We will pay attention to interdisciplinarity, because only a look from different perspectives allows you to create a complementary and internally consistent reality. We are also interested in the latest teaching methods. Forming critical reflection and openness to another human being, not only among students, but also in the whole society, is important from the point of view of the changes we observe in the modern world, which is filled with all kinds of false information. This is why critical thinking is a crucial skill – we see science not only as a way of describing reality, but also as a way of continuous improvement through frequent saying: “I check”. Learning is supposed to be an exercise in continuous improvement.
All of the above thematic path proposals are anchor points that will be developed in the programme of the European City of Science 2024 (we intend to present the programme successively from September to December 2023). More information will be available soon, and for now we invite you to discuss the paths. If you want to ask us a question or have an idea for an activity that would fit into one of them, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.