‘Science is also fun and can be used to solve many of society’s needs’
Those attending will also have the opportunity to learn about some of the UC3M's Horizon 2020 European research projects on the subjects of Big Data, wireless communications for robots, science shops and systems that simulate human behaviour. In this interview, the people in charge of these projects tell us about some of the key aspects of their research and how they will present it to the general public within the framework of this event promoting science.
Robot to the rescue underground
Ana García Armada, professor in the UC3M Department of Signalling Theory and Communications, heads up the European TeleRescuer project (RFCR-CT-2014-00002) under which they have developed a teleoperated robot that can carry out rescues inside a mine. "For it to be able to do this, it needs to be fitted with vision, sensors (gas, temperature…), so that all that information is transferred to the outside without humans having to access the interior of the mine, in addition to the necessary autonomy for the robot to be able to move without help. Tools are also needed that present all the data, make maps of the terrain and, through virtual reality glasses, allow the specialist to immerse themselves in the same environment as the robot," explains the researcher. Her group's work focuses on sensors, cameras and communication systems. "Communication with the interior of the mines is complicated due to the great distances involved and the difficulty of the radio-electric signals having to pass through walls and rocks. In addition, we need high bandwidths, due to the use of virtual reality, which adds to the complexity," she says.
In the demonstration that they are going to conduct at the Madrid-Puerta de Toledo campus, attendees will be able to learn about some of the communication concepts developed within the framework of this European project. For example, deploying a wired system and a wireless system that will act in the event that the wired system is damaged. "They will be able to configure a wireless network and understand its particular application in the specific case of the robot," adds Ana García Armada.
The researcher says of initiatives such as European Researchers' Night: "It is essential that we explain to society what it is that we do, not only to encourage more people to go into research, but also so that people can appreciate what we are creating in our country, which in research is a lot. We are working with international teams, side by side with the best researchers in the world, and it is important that they see what is being done, what it is for and how it can improve our lives. With the wide range of activities on offer as part of Researchers' Night, young people can see that there are many disciplines in which research can be done, from the most theoretical to the most applied, and that there is surely one that every person will be able to enjoy."
Playing with Big Data
Paloma Díaz, professor in the UC3M IT Department of Computing, is the person in charge of the European project NOTRE (GA 692058), in which research is done into various subjects related to social computation. Specifically, they develop data visualisations that allow us to understand situations using the semantics of the field in which these situations occur (politics, crisis management, etc.). "We want to show that adding semantics or meaning to Twitter data is an added value for information professionals or for those who want to understand what is being talked about in a deeper way than by just looking at TTs. We had worked on this issue in the field of crisis management, but the project has allowed us to collaborate with politics experts and to look for more general solutions," she explains.
In the activity that they are preparing for European Researchers' Night, they will present a prototype that organises the unconnected data available on Twitter on a particular topic in a series of categories that can be explored using virtual reality. In this way, the user can immerse themselves in the visualisation space with a simpler and more engaging interaction: "In this mini workshop we will use a tool that allows us to apply several visualisations to the same set of Twitter data to try to find the needle in a haystack we are looking for. You don't need to have technical knowledge in order to take part, you just need to be keen to experiment and to play with Big Data", says Paloma Díaz.
"Working on interactive systems for crisis management, education, culture or decision-making has allowed me to see that computer science is a career that allows you to be creative and to work with real problems and people, and that is deeply rewarding," says the researcher, who believes that European Researchers' Night is an exciting initiative that "allows you to expose young people who have not yet decided what they are going to do to science careers; being able to talk to them can help clarify their doubts about certain areas and, specifically, about information technology, an area where there is a lot of work and a lack of candidates, especially women."
Towards social simulation from human behaviour
Anxo Sánchez, professor in the UC3M Department of Mathematics, is in charge of IBSEN, a European research project (GA662725) that aims to advance the development of a social simulator by creating experimental procedures and new tools to reveal how us humans behave, particularly in large groups. To do this, they have developed a software in order to carry out experiments and have managed to get more than 22,000 people from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Valencia and Zaragoza to volunteer to assist them. "We can formulate experiments for the different areas in which we interact in society which allow us to discover how we act, and that information can be used to feed into computer models," says the researcher.
The activity they are presenting at the Madrid-Puerta de Toledo campus is a demonstration of the design work and experiments they carry out in order to better understand people's behaviour: "We will present some of the experiments we have carried out so that the people who come to see us can, on the one hand, see exactly what our work consists of and, on the other hand, some of the results we have obtained, which may have relevance for many aspects of their daily lives," says Anxo Sánchez.
This researcher feels that in general, the public have a good opinion of scientists, although he notes that in recent times there is a sector of society which is becoming anti-scientific, with serious consequences such as the increase in infectious diseases such as measles due to the fall in vaccinations: "It seems to me that this is happening in part because we tell them that the correct thing is this and that, and that they should believe us and that's that," says Anxo. "It won't work like that. We have to show them what it is we do – hence the importance of activities such as European Researchers' Night – and, above all, to present ourselves as people, people with flaws and virtues, but who are dedicated to public service in the form of research. There is a need for activities like this so that the public really get to know what science and researchers are doing for them, so that they in turn pressurise our politicians to really take science seriously".
Women, science and technology: myths and Science Shops
Elías Sanz Casado, a professor in the UC3M Department of Library and Information Science, is in charge of SciShops.eu, a European research project (GA 741657) whose objective is to analyse and promote "science shops", a type of structure that seeks to create intermediation spaces between the scientific community and the public: "We hope to obtain a deeper knowledge of society's needs. To this end, activities will be promoted to increase citizen participation, to facilitate the creation of new science shops and to encourage the development of different activities in co-creation of knowledge in collaboration with different social actors," explains the researcher.
In the activity they are presenting, they will gather ideas and opinions on problems related to training, access and use of technology in terms of gender and these will be used to create a science shop at the UC3M. The activity consists of three parts: group work, a role play activity and an activity to "demythify existing myths" in relation to technology and gender.
"It is crucial that we transmit the message that science is not something unattainable, elitist and distant. Science is also fun and can be used to solve many of society's needs," says Elias Sanz, who considers it essential that initiatives such as European Researchers' Night be developed in order to bring science closer to the general public and to try to get the general public more involved in scientific issues.
- Title of the activity: Gender and Technology
- Organised by: the UC3M Vice President for Communication and Culture
- Venue: the UC3M Madrid-Puerta de Toledo Campus
- ime: 6 – 9.30pm
- Free attendance up to maximum capacity
- Aimed at the general public
- For more information: http://www.uc3m.es/nocheinvestigadores2018
Francisco Javier Alonso Flores