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An evening with science [fiction] in the House of Frankenstein CELEBRATING 20 YEARS OF FNR

On Friday, 29 November 2019, on the occasion of the 20 year existence of the FNR, the FNR organised an off-beat event - The House of Frankenstein - where citizens and scientists came together to immerse themselves in some of the biggest controversial science topics facing society, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), genome editing, gender balance and the use of space resources. Join us on a journey as we revisit the evening.

“The concept was so nicely prepared and done. It was an excellent idea to have different groups to learn about important scientific issues in addition to just having drinks.” - guest feedback

"A lot of people think that science in general is not for the "common people", as they often feel it would be on a level too high for them. This kind of event shows that even citizens from a non-science background can be interested in science" - guest feedback

"Trust science, but do not have blind faith in it"
"How many things have been denied one day, only to become realities the next?" - Jules Verne

Less than a century after Jules Verne asked this question in his book 'From the Earth to the Moon', human kind was in space and not long after, walked on the Moon.

This is only one example of the blurring lines between science fiction and science reality - the topic of the House of Frankenstein evening.

In the 20 years the FNR has existed, it has committed 655 MEUR to research activities, funding 3650 projects - playing a key role in the development of Luxembourg's research sector. But: there are still many challenges to meet.

"It is because we [the FNR] want to tackle these challenges - not dismiss them behind closed doors - that we chose to organise tonight's event. We want to stimulate an open dialogue with society, between citizens and scientists - a balance reflected also in the guests this evening"
"Take time to slow down in this fast-paced world. Think critically. Trust science, but don't have blind faith in it" - Didier Goossens, FNR

Human genome editing – should we do it?

Frankenstein stands at his dissection table, his hair tousled, his gaze confused, his shirt stained with blood. As he eagerly uses the bone saw, he proudly shows the guests a large preserving jar with two small balls swimming in its brown broth. "What we have here", he says with a disturbed laugh to the body lying in front of him, "is a pair of beautiful blue eyes - just for you..."

Victor Frankenstein played by Paul Hoffmann, his assistant played by Sean Sapcariu (FNR)

The story of Frankenstein is then applied to our current times – Viktor Frankenstein points out to the guests that thanks to CRISPR and human genome editing, he can now make his creation free of any ailments. However, is it that simple?

Now the audience – visiting the different rooms in groups – is asked to weigh in:

Who do you think should take responsibility and decide whether human genome editing should be done – and to what extent?

Yes, it could eradicate certain diseases, enhance plants, but it could have also unpredictable consequences, and sparks a range of ethical questions.

“As a scientist, I got reminded how important science communication is with the general public” - guest feedback

Mary Shelley room: Artificial intelligence and HUMAN emotions

In the Mary Shelley room, guests walk in to see a cube on a table. The cube – called Frankie - is the ‘mouth’ of an Artificial Intelligence, connected to an AI in the cloud.

AI activity organised by the Luxembourg Tech School

Frankie talks to the guests, explaining that it has learned that humans are social creatures, and that it could not understand human by just meeting them online.

Frankie wants to learn about human emotions.

The room gives food for thought – both about the increased digitalisation of our world, and way of communicating with each other, while also giving a taste of how AI may not feel emotions, but can ‘read them’, prompting the question:

What does it mean to be human in the age of AI?

“It is important for the public to be engaged with scientific debate. There is a lot to learn about humans can affect the future - for good or bad.” - guest feedback

JULES VERNE ROOM: To the moon [and beyond]

As guests enter, Jules Verne is immersed in a deep sleep. When he wakes up, he is confronted not only with the visitors, but also with the present.

The French writer, considered a co-founder of science fiction literature, has simply missed out on the past 150 years.

Jules Verne played by Claude Faber, his assistant by lunar geologist Abigail Calzada Diaz [ispace]

While he is disappointed to learn that the journey to the center of the earth is still science fiction, he is all the more fascinated to learn humans have walked on the Moon.

He is over the Moon to meet a small lunar rover that will soon drive around on the Moon.

The room encourages guests to reflect on this example of how something that was merely science fiction has since become reality: space travel. If we skip 30-40 years into the future, how far may space travel and space mining have developed?

Luxembourg 2040: What could things look like in the future?

This room enabled guests to ‘draw the future’ – using interactive digital technology, guests were able to almost paint the air in the room.

Guests were asked to draw what they think things could look like in the future, anything from headphones, cars, to phones and more.

What does the future look like?

GENTLEMEN'S CLUB - ARE YOU MAN ENOUGH TO ENTER?

In the 19th century, there were plenty of these men-only clubs.

In House 17, this was the space (in fact, a bar) where the guests could relax, discuss (about anything), have a drink, listen to the pianist…

But, they may have gotten interrupted by FNR staff Michele Weber and Linda Wampach, both disguised as men, to talk about gender issues – be it in research or more generally in society.

A screen in the background projected portraits of female scientists worldwide (past and present) and statistics about Luxembourg.

Less than 30% of Luxembourg’s researchers are female, and even less women are active in the business research sector (12%).

“I usually see the FNR as funding agency with a bit of science comm on the side. This changed my perception of FNR as a catalyst for societal impact”

Impressions from the evening

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About the FNR

The Fonds National de la Recherche / Luxembourg National Research Fund (FNR) is the main funder of research activities in Luxembourg. We invest public funds and private donations into research projects in various branches of science and the humanities, with an emphasis on selected core strategic areas. We also support and coordinate activities to strengthen the link between science and society and to raise awareness for research. Additionally, we advise the Luxembourg government on research policy and strategy. www.fnr.lu

Credits:

FNR / Johannes Nollmeyer