Science Culture at Hemda
Science and Culture activities are held as part of the DANA program for science literacy
HEMDA-Centre for Science Education in Tel Aviv-Jaffa is the main institution for science education for 14-18 year olds in the municipality of Tel Aviv. About 1,100 junior and senior high school students from 16 schools study at the Centre, where they prepare for the physics, chemistry and computational sciences matriculation examinations. Studies are conducted in modern specially-equipped laboratory classrooms fully furnished with up to date scientific equipment and computers, with activities taking place throughout the day.
Since the 2005-6 school year, HEMDA has expanded its activities to reach the community, and has opened its doors to the public, who are invited to the evening programs forming part of the “Science Culture at HEMDA” project.
Throughout the western world, we are witnessing a double yet contradictory phenomenon. On
one hand, science has become more and more relevant to daily life, cutting across all sectors of life, with the public forced to struggle over new issues that never arose in the past. People are flooded with information on science and technology, and often are forced to decide on issues heavily affected by modern science, and sometimes involving life and death decisions. What kind of medical treatment shall we choose? How can we prevent birth defects? Other less fateful issues may involve what are the healthiest foods? Which toothpaste or sunscreen should I choose? These choices require us to be knowledgeable and constantly involved in scientific issues to develop the ability to make intelligent decisions.
On the other hand, the trend in Europe, the USA and, regretfully in Israel as well, seems to be a decrease in the number of science students in the high schools and universities. We are happy to report that registration at HEMDA is increasing each year, but we at HEMDA feel that we are swimming upstream. If society’s attitude towards science and science studies were more positive, even more students would come to HEMDA, students who are currently in other, “sexier” study tracks.
The Science-Culture Project at HEMDA offers the public the opportunity to increase its involvement in contemporary scientific issues, which will intensify scientific discourse around the family table throughout Tel Aviv, and create an atmosphere in the homes that would encourage science studies. Parents, siblings and other relatives who have made the Science Culture evenings an integral part of their cultural activities have guided more students to become interested in science and perhaps even to select science as their major study track. Our project name, Science-Culture at HEMDA, shows our outlook: science is culture, in the same way as are films, concerts and theatre.
Dr. Eitan Krein is the chairman of HEMDA’s Science-Culture project.
Activities outside Israel
The problems we are dealing with are not unique to Israel or to Tel Aviv. Western countries are investing a great deal of effort in overcoming the drop in science studies just when science is more relevant than ever before.
Great Britain has the longest tradition of science education for wider audiences, with the most orderly programs, from its history of famous lecturers at the Royal Institution by great scientists such as Humphrey Davies and Michael Faraday, who drew large crowds from London’s elite in the nineteenth century, to today’s popular science books and first-rate scientists appearing on television, such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins. Hawking and Dawkins continue to lecture at the Royal Institution in the same hall where Faraday stood. However, despite splendid institutions and tradition, the UK is also experiencing the crisis of trust in science.
The turning point in public attitude to science and scientists occurred in the late 1990s with the outbreak of “mad cow” disease. Despite scientists’ repeated calls for calm, there was a real crisis in the country, with public trust in scientists dropping to an all-time low. Academicians also began to understand that remaining in the “ivory tower” could have disastrous effects. The public’s loss of trust in scientists would soon lead to budget cuts, the closing down of science programs and to loss of human resources. The British House of Lords established a special Select Committee on Science and Society, whose recommendations remain current guidelines for agencies dealing in this important issue. The Commission’s principal recommendation is that one-way frontal lectures in which scientists explain issues to a passive audience are very inefficient. Instead, activities with two-way interaction should be developed, with discussion and debate between the public and the specialist. The slogan, “Communicating science with the public” has been changed to “Engaging the public with science.”
Dana Centre - London
One of the institutes that addressed itself to the issue is the British Science Museum in London, which established the Dana Centre (www.danacentre.org.uk) geared to the over-18 age group. The Centre operates during the evening, featuring debates on a wide variety of current issues, and we see it as one of our main models.
Activities at the HEMDA Centre for Science Education
The HEMDA SCIENCE-CULTURE Project integrates several types of activities, from the formal to the hands-on. At the formal end of the spectrum, we offer two semesters of science courses, held in association with the Davidson Science Education Institute of the Weizmann Institute of Science. Each course meets in eight weekly sessions, and all of the lecturers are working scientists. [see Appendix for full details].
ARC - Science and Theatre Workshop
We also held a series of lectures by leading Israeli scientists, open to the public. This year’s series was on threats and hopes for humankind.
Evening debates enable the audience to become more involved in expressing opinions and asking questions. Topics are varied, and are often quite controversial, sometimes leading to very heated debate. The issues emphasized by HEMDA involve science and ethics, how science and technology affect society, and environmental issues.
HEMDA also offers interdisciplinary evenings such as Science and Cinema series, a unique and first of its kind Science Theatre workshop, which allowed actors and scientists to explore the use of theatre in scientific debate. The drama workshop was held in association with the British Council Israel and the Bloomfield Science Museum, Jerusalem. The workshop was facilitated by members of the ARC Forum Theatre from London, which specializes in using theatre to involve people. The final activity for the year was an evening on technology and music, in association with Bar Ilan University’s Program on Science, Technology and Society.
One of the Science Culture program’s best achievements is our varied audience. People of all ages, from soldiers in uniform (many of whom are HEMDA graduates, who are happy to discover a way of keeping in touch), current and past students’ families, hi-tech personnel, doctors, educators and many more. We are gradually solidifying a devoted community of science lovers who attend our activities and pass the word: there is now a place where it is possible to hear fascinating things about science – the HEMDA Centre for Science Education, Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Press here to download a list of activities that tool place during our first year