CIG and the Public

Science communication: a responsibility

Since the discovery of the DNA double helix by James Watson and Francis Crick, biology has undergone a transformation – a continuing process, proceeding at a vast pace – and has faced the birth of a wide array of new disciplines: molecular genetics, proteomics, computational biology, genomics and systems biology, to name but a few. Nobody can refute that science (including the medical and biological sciences) and technology play an ever increasing role in our society and often have a direct impact on our daily lives. That process does not come without responsibility for those who create science: scientists.

Indeed, in an era where ordering one’s personal genome sequence is but a mouse click away and where words, such as “transgenic flies”, “genetically modified crops”, “cancer genes” and “knock-out mice” are prominently present in the media, and sometimes give rise to concern – not seldom as a result of spreading misinformation – with the general public and policy makers alike, it is of little surprise that there is a genuine need for clarification. Within this discourse, the CIG has taken up its responsibility and considers it part of its mission to establish a link with the public at large and communicate what is happening behind its walls, in a transparent fashion.

Communication projects at the CIG

During the open doors at the University of Lausanne (Les Mystères de l’UNIL ) and on other occasions, everyone is more than welcome to stop by at the CIG and visit the laboratories and the facilities. These activities are not only an opportunity for the scientists to inform the public about the research done at the CIG, but also offer them a unique chance to discuss with non-scientists about different research-related issues raised in today’s society. In particular, these open doors constitute an opportunity for PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to talk with the general public about their work and gain experience in describing their research projects and explaining the meaning of their experiments to the layman, whether it be children, teenagers or adults. Each year, many non-specialists visit the institute on these different occasions.

Needles to say that science communication with the public can also take the form of features in the media: during the past years, CIG members and their research have been commented on the radio, TV and in the written press. For its activities directed at the public, the CIG collaborates with the public laboratory of the UNIL, L’Eprouvette, which is part of the UNIL Interface Science and Society, and with the UNIL communication services (UNICOM).

The next generation of scientists: always welcome at the CIG

The CIG attaches great value to science communication with children and organizes every year a visit to the institute, within the framework of Passeport Vacances, a program that organizes activities for children and teenagers during their holidays. Likewise, the Center welcomes pupils, visiting with their school teacher. On those occasions, they get the chance to participate in the day-to-day life at the laboratory: become involved in simple experiments, learn to appreciate the miraculous world as experienced through the microscope and get an answer to all their questions. It would be a gross distortion of facts to claim that only the children benefit from these discussions with scientists. Professors, PhD students, postdocs and technicians alike can vouch for that, being more than just a little bit challenged in answering questions put from, let’s say a “different angle”. Not a few CIG members come to realize, after such visits, that children – displaying that charming mix of shyness and everlasting inquisitiveness – possess the most precious gift every scientist should cherish: a never ending “sense of wonder”…

John Grace lectures

As an integral part of the CIG Symposium, the CIG hosts each year the “John Grace Lecture”, made possible through generous support from the Fund for Research and Education in Genetics (FREG), established in 2010 following a generous donation from the Grace family.  The FREG is dedicated to supporting, educating, and inspiring current and future genetic researchers and to making science more accessible to the community, children and adults alike. It achieves this mission by supporting activities at the CIG and at L’Eprouvette, the public laboratory of the University of Lausanne. The John Grace Lecture is given by a selected renowned expert participating in the on-going CIG Symposium and is designed for the lay public as an outreach to the local community.  Attended by scientists at the symposium and lay public alike, the John Grace Lectures pose a unique challenge to the honored speakers. In 2015, the John Grace Lecture was given by Prof. Carol Greider (Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA), winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine, and in 2016 by Prof. Ross L. Cagan (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, USA).

Ma Thèse en 180′

Paolo Schumacher (group Fankhauser) and François Mange (group Hernandez) participated in a popularization competition that consisted in presenting the topic of their thesis research in only 180 seconds.

Supported by the CIG community, they both successfully reached the UNIL final and Paolo Schumacher received the 3rd prize of the local competition. These two talented junior researchers perfectly represent the CIG’s communication policy in the fact that they are passionate about science and surpassed themselves to make their researches accessible to all.