miércoles, 11 de febrero de 2015

Talking point: Science

This week's talking point is science. Before getting together with the members of your conversation group, go over the questions below so that ideas can flow more easily when you meet up with your friends and you can work out vocabulary issues beforehand.
  • What scientific subjects did you study at school? Did you enjoy them? Did the teachers make it easier for you to understand them?
  • Did you learn anything useful and practical with these scientific subjects?
  • Is there a scientist, living or dead, that you admire? Why?
  • What is the most important scientific discovery that man has made? Why?
  • Are there any scientific discoveries you wish hadn't been made?
  • If you were ill, would you be willing to take part in an experiment to test a new medicine?
  • Do you think it is acceptable for animals to be used in experiments?
  • Are you happy to eat genetically modified foods?
  • Have you heard about any scientific stories in the news recently?
  • What would you most like scientists to discover in the near future?

To illustrate the point, you can can the episode from the "Britain through my eyes" series Science and innovation in the UK, featuring Italian Astrophysicist Giovanna Tinetti, where she talks about the way living in the United Kingdom has helped her to boost her career as a scientist.

My name is Giovanna Tinetti. I come from Italy and I am an astrophysicist at University College London, and this is "See Britain Through My Eyes".
I actually did my university studies in Italy and then, I went to the United States and to France. And today, I actually work in London, University College London, and I really love being here and I really hope to stay here for my entire life, actually.
I seriously think that London is the most beautiful city in the world. I can basically live in the hills of London, but then a few tube stations, I can go to the center. And then from there, I can start to think about what's happening in space. I like the fact that I can be totally in my mind in the countryside or in the city, or in space.
Personally, I work on the idea of trying to find life elsewhere in the universe. Looking at the light coming from the planets, which are outside our own solar system, if the orbit of the planet at a certain point brings the planet in front of the star, then you can basically measure the composition of the planetary atmosphere. Through that, we can get an insight of what's going on on the planet, if the planet is habitable and potentially inhabited or not.
What I particularly like of the UK universities is the balance between a competition and a corporation, and this is something that is a little bit in between the American situation or the European one. The flux that is made by the planet would also be equal to sigma. Sigma is always the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, of course.
When I arrived in the UK, I was surprised to see how international is this community, and literally people are coming from all over the world. Not only students, but also the staff. That is actually a very strong message that is very rare internationally. The fact that you have a culture that is open enough actually, to allow other people to come in from different countries, if they deserve it, to take key jobs. In the UK, you have a very strong concept of meritocracy.
One of the aspects of the UK I really like is having a foot in the past and a foot in the future. This is one of the events of the Royal Society to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society. What I think is fantastic is the idea that such a great institution that goes past centuries is not just a fossil. It's still an institution and it's inspiring us to do great science today. I was awarded a university research fellowship by the Royal Society.
Of course, if I come here and I look at all these beautiful portraits of scientists like Newton, Boyle, then I feel a lot of pressure. You have all the past talking to you to sort of support you and encourage you to do a brighter future.
Are there any planets with other Royal Society looking back at us and seeing us as alien? I really think that simple life, in terms of bacteria microorganisms, is probably very common out there. Maybe civilization, it's something a little bit more difficult to form. We shall see what this theorem will tell us.