This week, Torino, Italy, is hosting the largest science conference in Europe, the Euroscience Open Forum (2-7 July 2010). This is no surprise – the city has a major scientific history. Primo Levi was from here. The MP3 was invented in 1988 by Leonardo Chiariglione, a regional engineer. Some wannabe astrologer named something Avogadro originated from Turin. My hotel is off of Via LaGrange, named for the mathematician, who was born in Torino, and who kept many of us up at night. And don’t forget that famous Shroud – it’s here too and there’s plenty of science associated with this piece of cloth.
The municipality has more than its fair share of science museums too, including one entirely dedicated to fruit, and is a Royal City (it was the seat of power of the House of Savoy). So when I learned that ESOF would be in Torino this summer, I knew it was going to be a winning combination.
Just as I reported at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting held February 2010, ESOF is a celebration of science in all forms. From sessions on “Particle Physics Research: Why does it matter?” to “Of Genes and Bodies: Developmental Perspectives in Vertebrate Evolution” to “When Scientists Read Literature” (it’s true! They cited evidence that scientists actually read books!), there is a tantalizing menu of learning opportunities, with a decidedly European slant. Naturally, there are also plenty of seminars on policy issues pertaining to the Continent.
ESOF, which is only in its 4th iteration, is being held in a conference center that once was the old Fiat factory in a crumbling part of Torino. But in a city-wide effort to tidy things up, especially with the Olympics being held here in 2006), the dilapidated factory was gutted and reborn into a shopping mall, a fancy hotel, and the conference halls. There is still a large circular, inclined driveway that is used to access the test track on the roof of the building, which is used for parties and whatnot.
As is the case around much of Europe, the science festival plays an important role in association with this conference. Many public events, in English and Italian, are held throughout the city of Torino. Tonight, after a long day soaking in some good news (particle physics actually does have a good Return on Investment in industry), and some bad news (despite the fact we have been cultivated 7000 plants since the dawn of agriculture, today we only use 150, or 2%, of species for food and clothing, making our food supply much more susceptible to disease), I had the opportunity to stroll through a piazza where booths of science demos and hands-on experiments kept kids and adults occupied for much of the evening.
Everyone says Italy has terrific chow. But sadly, I could not find a single Olive Garden in the square near my hotel. I was forced to wolf down gelato and penne (in that order) at some no-name joint, and then I couldn’t even get a skinny Macchiato with soy milk, because there ain’t no Starbucks acqui! But there was one saving grace to the night. As part of the “Science in the City” public events, a stage was erected in the piazza where I dined and as I endured my supper, I was able to see a show – in this case, a conversation between a number of Nobel Laureates (approximately 3), who spoke to the crowd in English, with an incredibly loud Italian interpreter speaking over them, and an Italian-speaking emcee. My two favorite moments of the night:
Sir Harry Kroto holding a soccer ball (what else would he hold? A rugby ball?), discussing its design and that of a buckyball, and hinting about how the World Cup should have turned out:
And then there was Peter Agre, singing the periodic table song, with a cute nod to Torino at its conclusion:
So thus far, my assessment of ESOF is the following: fugetabout the formaggio, mi amicos, because Torino is all about science this week. And it is as sweet as the chocolate (and mp3s) that have made this place famous.