Science is “Wonder-Full” in Brussels
A few days ago I was in Brussels for something like 28 hours. Mine is really a very small parochial existence in the great scheme of things so I was struck by the fact that this little jaunt brought the total number of countries blessed by my presence in 2016 to 8. This is a very small number of nations I know, but for little me, visiting eight countries in one calendar year may be a record. In 2016, I’ve been in Ireland, the UK, Spain (or Catalonia), Canada, the USA, Sweden, Italy and Belgium.
The event is a Science Fair called “Science is Wonder-Full” where EU funded scientists (including social scientists) get to showcase their projects to a general public – i.e. whoever’s in Brussels on the day. Tanya (Dr Feelgood) works on Milk and Alcohol. She works (right now) on whether alcohol transmission in donated breastmilk is a significant problem. Cut to the chase – it isn’t. Good to know. I was helping her with the desk – as was the boy, who had taken a day off school in order to pour beer into milk and shake it up twenty or thirty times. There are special testing strips which turn brown after two minutes after shaking the booze and the milk together. Except that the beer we were provided with was Belgian beer – so the strip turned jet black after just one minute.
I like the Parlamentarium. The Parlamentarium has a permanent exhibit relating to the story of the EU itself from its conceptual beginnings during the wreck and ruin of catastrophic war. The exhibits dealing with European peace and co-operation are wonderfully conceived of and you’d have to have a heart of stone or a UKIP politician not to be moved by the display.
Waiting to get set up we meet an Italian scientist working on the effects of a Mediterranean diet on staving off Alzheimers. She suddenly remarks that I am the spitting image of Alan Rickman, something that has never occurred to me before. If true, I must exploit this resemblance and terrorise the boy with it.
Our desk is at the end of a long dark corridor giving us greater melodramatic effect. Visitors reach us after having been given some ice cream made out of liquid nitrogen. Next to us is another Italian scientist who has been working on cocoa bean shell reclamation. Apparently even the shell of this wonderful bean has many many applications and we shouldn’t just be throwing them away.
Tanya greeted some politicians and bigwigs and cards were exchanged. In return for arriving at 7.15 am and staffing the Milk and Alcohol desk for twelve hours straight we were granted a voucher for one ham sandwich between the three of us. Some talk of an “EU Gravy Train”. We were not riding on any such train. Gravy was there none.
The school parties offered a challenge that we hadn’t been made aware of. They weren’t just asking about Tanya’s exhibit, they had little sheets with science questions that they wanted answered. In essence, we were placed in the position of trying to answer second level science questions using second level French. The challenge was probably good for us. I should certainly be forced to do stuff like this more often.
I’m left with a sense that my scientific knowledge is excitingly inadequate, my conversational sciencey French is shockingly inadequate, and Europe cannot be allowed to just fall apart without a spirited defense.