Dublin, July 11: Europe’s largest science conference opened here today promising a melange of talks spanning myriad fields, from space exploration to advances in medicine and spiced by a session featuring US President Barack Obama’s executive pastry chef.
Scientists and policy makers at the Euroscience Open Forum (ESOF) 2012 also expect to discuss the role of esoteric frontier research in an economically troubled world, newly discovered nutritional benefits of milk and current trends in robotic technology.
More than 4,200 delegates are expected to attend the five-day conference that will showcase European science through panel discussions and presentations by the research community. Bill Yosses, the executive pastry chef at the White House, has been invited to speak at a session on how science is influencing cuisine. Dutch researcher Mark Post will discuss a method of producing meat without killing animals.
“With ESOF 2012, we are in effect bringing the Olympics of science to Dublin,” said Patrick Cunningham, chief scientific adviser to the Irish government, who is also chair of the biennial meeting drawing 500 speakers discussing science, careers and research business.
One panel discussion will debate whether PhD programmes need to be remodelled in the 21st century, amid concerns that people who have trained themselves through years of research are confronted by dwindling numbers of jobs in academic institutions.
In the tradition set by earlier ESOFs, the Dublin meetings are also expected to focus more on science policy, the implications of science and technology on human society and on reviews of earlier research, than on new announcements or discoveries.
James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA or genetic material, and biologist Craig Venter, who had helped develop new techniques to decode the human genome in the late 1990s, are among superstars of science invited to speak at the conference.
Venter is scheduled to deliver a talk titled “What is life? A 21st century perspective”, at Dublin’s Trinity College on Thursday, in what ESOF 2012 organisers hope will be “an update to an Irish event that had inspired the discovery of the structure of DNA.” In February 1943, the distinguished 20th century scientist Erwin Schrodinger, a pioneer of quantum physics, had delivered a talk titled, “What is life?” at the same venue.
A panel of scientists will also debate whether frontier research — of the kind that led to the announcement of the subatomic particle with signatures of the Higgs boson last week — is an extravagance or a necessity in times of recession.
“For most countries, investment in science and technology has become part of economic policy,” Cunningham told The Telegraph, ahead of the conference’s opening ceremony. Ireland itself has experienced a dramatic expansion in science and research activities over the past 12 years.
Countries, he said, need to strike a balance between focusing on relatively short-term deliverable goals of science and technology that are asked for (by governments) and expanding the frontiers of basic knowledge that could have long-term spin-offs.
The scientific proceedings at the conference will also touch on the future of nuclear energy, the challenge the world will face to feed its nine billion population by 2050, and the promise as well as risks of personalised genetic information.
A psychologist-turned-computer scientist, Mark Keane, at a session on the future of computing, will show how certain aspects of human decision-making, such as in buying shares, can be viewed as a form of computation, and thus lend themselves to forecasts.
In another session, astronomers who have discovered planets outside the solar system will discuss their efforts to understand atmospheric conditions and temperatures on these extrasolar planets and the search for signatures of biological activity.