Monday, November 10, 2008

Long Night of Research - Lange Nacht der Forschung

As a researcher I find myself spending too many long nights, but Saturday's Lange Nacht der Forschung in Austria was actually fun. The idea is that researchers open their laboratories and explain what they are working on to the general public. In Vienna there were 28 different locations connected by free shuttle buses. Each location offered demonstrations, the ability to talk with the researchers about their projects and something oriented towards children.

Over 310,000 people attended the events (they were also held in the cities of Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Wiener Neustadt), almost 4-times more than the first time several years ago. All the exhibits I went to were crowded and people had to be turned away from the lectures at the University.

It reminded me of the ETH Zurich's 150 year anniversary celebration in 2005. The ETH set-up exhibits on current research in several Zurich parks and organized 150 professors to give 150 lectures on their research. I was surprised at how many people attended these lectures (many standing room only!) and how interested people were in what was going on "up on the hill" ... (the ETH, aka Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, is located on a hill overlooking the city). The ETH also has held its own Lange Nacht der Forschung.

Both Switzerland and Austria also have "Long Night of Museums" where the museums are all open late. They are also very well attended.

On Saturday I focused on transport and planning research. At Tech Gate, I learned about a new system developed by ftw combining GIS with cellular technology to send information you want to your telephone and research by Austria Tech on making freight transport more environmentally friendly. At Arsenal Research in Tech Base, I learned about some really interesting pedestrian modeling including research on how to control pedestrian flows at major public transport stations. The research was used successfully in June 2008 to help control fans leaving the European Football Championship games on Vienna's Metro line U2. Arsenal Research's Forschungsnews Magazine (pdf download) describes some of these projects. In the Fachhochschule Technikum Wien I visited an exhibit from the FH Joanneum on innovative new railway technology (German) including improved safety devices, improved rail vehicle design and use of IT in railway systems (one of my main research interests).

Then I hurried to the University to hear a lecture from Dr. Thomas Müller on the importance of self worth and recognition. Müller is a criminal psychologist and profiler who has written several books. He spoke about the three main areas of life: work, relationships and self ... and said that you need to balance the amount of 'recognition' you get from each sector ... too much or too little of any leads to problems. Of course my short summary doesn't do justice to his lecture, but it was late and I was sitting on the floor of the Vienna University Grosser Festsaal ... with great paintings on the ceiling (two by Klimt that were destroyed in World War II were repainted in black and white).

One of the nice things about the evening was having the opportunity to visit many different parts of the city. Tech Gate is a skyscraper located adjacent to the United Nations facility on the Donau in Vienna; the exhibits were on the 19th floor with a view of the whole city. Both Arsenal Research and the Technikum are modern new facilities located in different areas of the city. The University is located right on the Vienna Ringstrasse in a beautiful building. It has a huge central courtyard with a wonderful covered arcade - with statues of professors along the sides. It would be a nice place to visit on a trip to Vienna - a green oasis.

In summary, a fun evening. It's the kind of event that all cities should hold!

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