Renata Ramalho is coordinator of the Science Public Relations Office of the António Xavier Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology of the New University of Lisbon. She is one of the Faces of Science responsible for the Open Science Oeiras programme.
The ‘Open Science Oeiras’ programme is an initiative of the António Xavier Institute of Chemical and Biological Technology of the New University of Lisbon, in partnership with Oeiras City Council and the Gulbenkian Science Institute.
Renata Ramalho, coordinator of the Science Public Relations Office of the ITQB NOVA, is one of the faces of science responsible for this programme in the area of scientific education and culture.
Renata Ramalho has been working on this programme since its inception and, in an interview, explained to us the various phases of the project and how this initiative has proved to be of benefit to all students and lecturers, researchers and scientific institutions, companies and the university, and the wider community of Oeiras.
When and in what context did the Open Science Oeiras Programme emerge?
The Open Science Oeiras programme emerged in 2019 as a partnership between Oeiras City Council, the ITQB-NOVA and the IGC (Gulbenkian Science Institute). Oeiras is home to various reference research institutions and the researchers are fully integrated into the population: they are schoolmates’ parents, beauty parlour customers, the organisers of neighbourhood folk groups, etc. That is why it made sense to create a structured programme under the auspices of the Oeiras Science and Technology Strategy to open the institutions’ doors even wider and bring science closer to the community.
The programme is very wide-ranging, with sectors dedicated to Internationalisation, Technology Transfer, Citizen Science, Action Research, and one part focused on Scientific Education and Culture. I am mainly engaged in these areas of Scientific Education and Culture.
What is the purpose and benefit of Open Science Oeiras?
It is a unique initiative that allows us to bring science closer to society and, in particular, the school community. Every year, thousands of citizens from Oeiras have the opportunity to have direct contact with researchers, participate in projects, ask all kinds of questions and even experience a day in the life of a researcher. In schools, the project reaches thousands of students, bringing science closer to home.
Our aim is to create a feeling of familiarity with science and a sense that it belongs to the community, “I am from Oeiras, science is part of my life”. The aim is not for everyone to become a scientist, but for science to be a decisive and palpable aspect of people’s everyday lives.
How has the local community in Oeiras taken to the programme?
TeIt has been amazing! Teachers were the first to embrace the programme, using the opportunities available on the Oeiras Educa platform. They brought along the students who participate in each activity: visits to laboratories, Open Days, Science Clubs, contests, online sessions, etc. Seniors form a particularly interested group that, even during the pandemic, has been very active. The truth is that the whole population has joined in immensely, as a family, with friends or individually. There is a lot of curiosity, which our researchers are only too happy to satisfy.
What have been the main initiatives of Open Science Oeiras?
One very important part of the programme has been establishing regular partnerships with schools. Students from Oeiras are already used to having researchers in the classroom, proposing projects, talking and clarifying issues, participating in “job shadowing” sessions. The partnership with school Science Clubs allows projects to be developed in line with the interests of the students and teachers, who very often bring ideas outside the box and who we are able to help to bring them to life. The fact that this is not exceptional, that it happens on a regular basis, puts the young people at ease with science, which makes all the difference in their education and in their outlook on the world.
We have various other initiatives geared towards different target audiences. At the moment we are organising the first European Researchers’ Night to be held in the county, which will take place on 24 September at Oeiras Marina. This event takes place every year, simultaneously across Europe, and aims to bring science closer to citizens. It is now coming to an open space which locals frequent in their daily lives, with all kinds of activities allowing exploration of the science done here.
We are going to have a guided visit to the Bugio lighthouse, the launch of a children’s book on COVID-19 vaccination, a remote-control submarine, a debate on sustainability, a huge game of Jenga, and much more. The events have been a hallmark of the programme, with Open Days that allow visitors to see the institutions close-up, and commemorative days, such as the Day of the Microorganism and the Fascination of Plants, which led hundreds of people to visit the gardens of the Marquês de Pombal Palace.
Clearly, the pandemic has brought additional challenges, but it has also allowed us to develop unique initiatives. We have created the highly successful web series, Scientists at Home, with scientific experiments to try out as a family and which already consists of 10 episodes produced by the ITQB-NOVA. Since the onset of the pandemic, there have also been webinars in which researchers answer questions from the public. Even our Open Day was converted to an online format and received a large audience. Summer Science, a summer course for university students, has been held in an online format and in a mixed format, which allows students to get to know the institution and also discover Oeiras.
Que balanço faz da suWhat is your overall assessment of your experience and what does the future hold for the programme?
The experience has been very positive. The receptivity of the local population and the feedback we have received demonstrates the importance of promoting these initiatives. At times like these, it is even more important for science to be seen by citizens as something near-at-hand, and not something alien.
I have also been very lucky with the people with whom I have worked, both at the ITQB NOVA and under the partnership with Oeiras City Council and with the IGC. We share a common passion for science and for ensuring it reaches everyone and, with this in mind, we have set up a unique team, with various complementary competencies that allow this enthusiasm to be conveyed to the local population.
Oeiras really does offer unique conditions for carrying out a programme like this one. Open Science Oeiras is only two years old and, even though we have already done a lot, we are still only taking the first steps. When the pandemic conditions allow, we will be offering a summer holiday programme for State school students, and the institutions will literally be able to open their doors once again. We have various programmes that were put on hold, and which will be implemented in the coming years, offering an increasingly comprehensive response to the needs of the population of Oeiras. The future certainly belongs to Oeiras, Capital of Science and Innovation.