With the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games less than a year away, sport and science were the main themes of the 32nd Fete de la science organised by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. From October 12–15 almost 4 000 visitors came through the doors of Compiegne University of Technology, the largest science village in the Hauts-de-France region, with 44 stands. Students and teacher-researchers vied with each other ≪to make people want to come, to present science in a friendly and fun way, give people a taste for scientific careers and make children realise that science is everywhere and that they can have a scientific culture≫, explains Karim El Kirat-Chatel, head of scientific, technical and industrial culture (CSTI) at UTC. Here’s a small sample.
Sport and its relationship with materials science, sustainable development, economics, sociology and health… A fertile theme for understanding the challenges and progress of tomorrow, exploring technological advances and the evolution of materials in the service of sport, the impact of nutrition on performance, the ability of insects to break sporting records…
Nicolas Rivoallan, a PhD student in biomaterials at UTC and the Institut für Mehrphasenprozesse in Hanover (IMP), Germany, who is seeking to recreate the junction between bone, tendon and muscle using electrospinning, was one of the guests at this 32nd Fête de la science. Nicolas won first prize from the jury of the 2022 final round of the competition “My thesis in 180 seconds flat” and was also one of ten authors selected by the French Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation to explain his studies in the annual “Sciences en bulles” comic strip distributed throughout France. Weaving tendons like Spiderman democratises tissue engineering with a sense of humour. His demonstration through his linear and stylised installation also follows these precepts of simplicity. «I love talking about my thesis subject, which is about recreating a kind of tendon, bone or bioartificial muscle by combining cells and materials. It’s interesting to share it with the general public. I’m also motivated by the idea of inspiring people to take up careers in this field. The subject is very biology-based, integrating bio-mechanics and bio-engineering. It started ten years ago. Research scientists are passing the baton to find a concrete solution for repairing tendons. It will still be some time before they can be implanted. Nevertheless, what we do can be useful for other aspects, such as testing drugs or gaining a better understanding of what happens at the interface between bone, tendon and muscle». “Sciences en bulles” convinced the student in his final year to move into science outreach. The handover before his departure at the end of the academic year is underway to enable the work to continue.
AI and parity also on the agenda
Although sport was the theme chosen for this year’s Fête, other subjects were also addressed, such as AI and the ‘Victeams’ project. The use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality to create emotional experiences and immersive personalised scenarios to solve training and decision-making problems is one of the projects being conducted by Domitile Lourdeaux, a lecturer in the UTCHeudiasyc laboratory (Heuristics and Diagnosis of Complex Systems) at UTC. An example of a practical application: training medical teams to manage stressful and critical situations in wartime. «We’re still in the experimental phase. It’s still limited in terms of interaction to adapt to non-technical skills. In the serious games, the learner has a choice of three texts, including the solution we didn’t want to give. Everything hinges on communication and a message that we haven’t yet resolved. However, we have made a lot of progress on the research aspects. The idea is to find a scenario with dilemmas and difficult situations adapted to the individual’s profile.
While one of the objectives of the Fête de la science is to give people a taste for science, and while parity is now more widely considered, women like Domitile Lourdeaux are still underrepresented in research. Anne L’Huillier from France and Sweden is this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, 65 women have been awarded the prize, representing 6.7% of the 970 laureates since its inception in 1901. According to 2023 figures from the CNRS (the French National Centre for Scientific Research), only 34.5% of researchers are women. Social norms and gender stereotypes remain deeply entrenched. Nathalia Oderich Muniz, a post-doctoral research scientist, and the “Sciences égales” student association at UTC joined forces to promote this parity through an exhibition. Why not me? featured posters on the phenomenon of social biases such as the “imposter syndrome”, the “Mathilda effect” and the “glass ceiling”, as well as posters of women in history and contemporary women. Nathan agreed that «a lot remains to be done in terms of parity. Prejudices and social preconceived ideas are still very present. The images we have of scientists are often of Einstein or Newton. As far as women are concerned, we only have Marie Curie. A paradox when compared with the discoveries of Ada Lovelace and her conceptualisation in the 1850s of the first machine-executable algorithm in the history of computing, or Grace Hopper and the invention of the Cobol language in 1959. With the reform of the baccalaureate and mathematics no longer being compulsory, and girls having less interest in the subject, their entry into engineering schools and their interest in it will decline», Rosalie believes. When it comes to specialisations, 75% of biology students are girls and 75% of computer science students are boys. We’re falling behind on stereotypes. That’s why it’s important to raise awareness among young people. However, UTC has nothing to be ashamed of, with over 50% of young women entering post-bac courses in recent years. Still on a parity trajectory, UTC, for its gender equality awareness project proposed as part of Equality Month in March 2023, won the prize for the most active school in the prestigious ‘Les ingénieuses’ competition organised by the CDEFI (Conference of Directors of French Engineering Schools). This prestigious national competition promotes the role of women in engineering. UTC, an institution that combines science with women.