London Youth International Science Forum

Emily Keaveney from DT203 attended the 2006 London Youth International Science Forum on behalf of the Science Faculty at DIT. The trip was coordinated by the RDS and Emily was sponsored by the Faculty of Science, DIT. Here she reflects on her time there...

The purpose of this report is to try and convey to you just how good the London International Youth Science Forum was. Well, I'm sorry to say that I don't think I will be able to adequately do so. Especially not in less than 2,000 words! Much of what made the Science Forum so fantastic were in the mundane matters that would take years to retell. I am going to have to settle with telling you of just the more interesting things and hoping that you realise that there was so much more.

First of all, let me say that the name really doesn't explain it at all. The London International Youth Science Forum! It doesn't tell you that there will 250 students from 60 different countries there. Most of who will be complete strangers. You don't know that for many of these students, English will be their second language. It doesn't tell you that you will be genuinely fascinated by the lectures, many of which have nothing to do with what you are studying. It's because you are a science student you can follow them and be interested. Finally, it certainly doesn't tell you that in the two short weeks you will be there, those 250 former strangers, will become very close friends, closer than you ever thought possible. We all came together with one common interest, a love of science. It was that love that allowed us to live together, to work together and, yes, to go out and have a few drinks together. Religious, social and racial differences never came into play and yet we had every kind of person there.

One example I can give you is this. During the first week we had an optional participant's debate on stem cell research. Bear in mind that since we had devout Catholics, Jews and Muslims present; we were all expecting an argument. If I'm honest, I will tell you that's why a lot of people showed up since it was optional and in the evening when most people fancied hitting the pub. Anyway, of course the idea that religion held back scientific progress came up, and was debated. However, there was no row, there was no trouble. Ok, yes it did get a little heated, but people's opinions were respected. It certainly didn't regress to a religious war. In fact the debate was so interesting that when we had to draw it to a close because it was too late some of us went to the pub and continued the debate. I am serious, close to seventy people went to the nearest pub [which did great business those two weeks] and debated, rather loudly in some cases, about stem cell research and the merits of religion and spirituality. Afterwards I will admit that I couldn't believe it. This is something I don't think would ever happen at home and yet it happened at the science forum as if it was completely normal.

Of course there were the lectures. There were two or three lectures a day and at the end of each lecture, a participant had to stand and thank the lecturer on behalf of the LIYSF. The lectures themselves were varied and universally interesting. And when I say varied, I mean varied. When was the last time you attended a lecture about how bubbles can be used to answer engineering and mathematical problems? No, I'm not joking. Or another one where they have you taste jelly and blancmange that are not their usual colours to prove that colour can affect your sense of taste. Or yet another lecture where you can use sound to measure your level of hearing and match it to how old you are, or more accurately, how old your hearing suggests you are. Many people found that their level of hearing said they were 30 or 40. Those lectures were mixed together with ones that discussed nuclear proliferation and the alarming rate of human consumption of fossil fuels and the need to find environmentally friendly and economically viable sources of energy. Videos of actual cataracts operations were shown alongside photographs of people suffering real physical disorders. My personal favourite, I was asked [on stage] to drink an innocuous looking glass of water. When I finished I was told that the water had actually been taken from a well in Sudan and probably contained a parasite known as the guinea worm. The lecturer then proceeded to describe how the parasite would go on to live and grow inside my system before laying its eggs inside me and dying. Afterwards I was assured that the water was in fact clean and I received applause for my bravery. However I was perturbed when one of the directors, John Needle, came to me afterwards and said that if by chance I should have the parasite within me would I please let him know so that when the eggs were ready to hatch in time for next years forum I could come and allow the participants to watch. I am sure he was joking. But the lectures covered the entire spectrum that makes up science. Chemistry, maths, physics, biology, finance and all the bits in between were covered by lectures that were so interesting that even I, a chemistry student could follow highly technical biology and physics lectures. That in itself makes the science forum worthwhile and indeed brilliant.

But it was not all lectures of course. We had a cabaret night where I learned to perform the New Zealand Haka, which was a lot of fun, and to sing a Swedish New Year song. Of course we kept the spirit of the Irish alive by singing the Fields of Athenry and dancing the Walls of Limerick. It was a spectacle not to have been missed. We had the Olympics in which the two Halls of Residence battled against each other to win the fabulous prizes of pencil cases for the winners and key rings for the runners up. Ok, bear in mind that we were all science students and most of us were not very athletic, so it was highly entertaining to watch and even more so to take part. There was the exciting race across London to answer general knowledge questions. We were all in teams of four where there had to be at least three languages and preferably four nationalities. I am very happy to report that my team won in a Forum Record of 30 minutes. In the words of John Needle, we didn't even have the decency to seem out of breath. Needless to say, since all the other teams took at least two hours everyone was extremely interested to know how we had managed it. Our answer was thus, as scientists we must remember that there is often more than one solution to a problem. Ok, pretentious, I know, but we got away with it and were £20 richer for it. No, I'm not going to tell you how we did it. The four of us went for dinner to celebrate since the food we were getting was typical college food, inedible. We attended shows and plays and went on bus and walking tours around London. When, inevitably, our money ran out, we sat in the TV room and made up drinking songs in various languages. In short, we had a lot of fun.

Ok, now for the sad part in which I reminisce. I now have so many friends from so many countries it's surreal. These are people I, sadly, never get to see yet I know so much about them because we are such good friends. I know that Samia from Egypt will be going back to England soon to study biology. I know Hrishiskesh from India is in his final year of medicine and is so stressed out its unreal. I know that Dolev and Shirley from Israel will be starting their military service soon. Yiannis from Cyprus and I have been chatting every Thursday night, moaning about our terrible love lives. An online forum has been set up so we can all stay in contact with each other and share stories and news easily as time goes on. At the closing ceremony we all ran around hugging each other, many of us in tears because when are all going to be together again? I held it together until Shirley gave me a charm from Israel to remember her by; then all the self restraint went out the window. I think that night, no-one slept well. E-mails and promises to stay in touch were exchanged and last minute debates over whether Ramsey Hall or Commonwealth Hall, [the two halls of residence] should have won the Olympics. It was great, heartbreaking, but great.

The Science Forum meant so much to me its amazing. It is such a cliché to say that it changed my life, but I don't know how else to put it. The lectures and science were just a part of it. It was the people who made it a forum. If even one person who was there had not able to go, the forum would not have been nearly as good. Each person made it better. The fact that we all learned so much feels like a bonus. Another cliché, 'don't be sad it's over, be happy that it happened,' pretty much sums it up. When I came home all I could think was that I wanted to go back. I will never forget my time there, or the friends I made. I owe so much to the people who organised the forum and to the people who helped me get there and to experience this, that to them all I can say is this; On behalf of the participants of the 2006 London International Youth Science Forum, and on behalf of myself, I thank you, most sincerely, for helping to make the forum as good as it was.

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