Research with children: “They are bursting with curiosity”


Do you know what a genome is and what a virus genome looks like? No? Don’t be ashamed, we almost all feel the same about it. Children, on the other hand, don’t necessarily have to do that: scientists are often corrected by our tough offspring when they make mistakes. What is it like when researchers and children meet each other? An insight.

Admittedly, science sounds like a lot of effort to understand. But: it doesn’t have to be this way. “FÄKT” is the name of a new project by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). The goal is to meet young people where they actually are: on social media. So far, this room is not particularly popular among (at least adult) researchers.

Working with children is great, reveals scientist Andreas Bergthaler from MedUni Vienna and the ÖAW Research Center for Molecular Medicine (CeMM).

“Young people are full of questions and curiosity,” Bergthaler knows from his daily work. “They are easily inspired by difficult questions, such as the questions that science is trying to answer.”

Young people always surprise the researcher: “Children’s questions are sometimes uncompromisingly direct and logical.”

That fascinates him because “it always inspires me and makes it possible to leave the beaten track and a certain tunnel vision behind.”

We want to know if it has ever been improved by children. “This happens all the time,” says Bergthaler: “Last month a ten-year-old girl corrected me during a student seminar. I had explained the genome of viruses in somewhat simplified terms, but she knew that wasn’t entirely true.”

Also reach lower educated classes
“I think it is important to give the next generation an understandable insight into the world of research,” emphasizes the expert. “What can research do and what cannot? What major discoveries are Austria’s top researchers making? And how does science influence our daily lives and the future?”

“The potential of children is incredibly great and must be awakened and encouraged,” says Bergthaler.

During a laboratory internship, he experienced for himself “how exciting it can be to investigate new things as a mix of detective and mushroom hunter.”

He also wants to pass this on to young people – and especially reach people who come from a poorly educated background.

Researchers on social media
The ÖAW’s new project “FÄKT” aims to help with this – with short videos and “shorts” prepared together with local scientists for young people on exciting topics from children’s everyday lives.

The whole is prepared not only for school lessons, but also specifically for social media.

Ivona Brandic, a computer scientist at the Vienna University of Technology, also knows that this is an area that many scientists have entered only hesitantly or not at all: she was the one who made the first ‘FÄKT’ video.

Social media needs high-quality knowledge
“We researchers are actually communication professionals,” says Brandic. Alone: ​​“Only in our own bubbles and channels. Social media is not one of them.’ She also revealed that she was initially hesitant to reach out to people here.

However, young people spend a lot of time on TikTok and the like: “You can demonize it – or just go on TikTok yourself. I did that too, it’s fun.”

Above all, Brandic emphasizes, “we should not leave such channels to conspiracy theorists, but you can also make one or two videos in addition to Power Points.”

Not bulky, dry and dusty
With ‘FÄKT’, the children would receive quality-guaranteed knowledge directly from the source, i.e. from the respective researchers: ‘We investigate the questions and can provide answers that do not exist,’ says Brandic. “That is the didactics of the 21st century, I would think.”

Additionally, the videos also convey complex science topics in a way that is “easily digestible” for children.

Further plans
By mid-2025, up to 30 ‘science videos’ should be produced with ‘FÄKT’ and significantly more ‘short films’ in accordance with social media – incidentally with hosts also suitable for young people, namely the two students Marie-Sophie ‘Miso’, beginning twenty.

We asked Bergthaler if there are already plans to expand “FÄKT”, for example to a summer camp – after all, the idea for the project came from him and his colleagues.

“For me, ‘FÄKT’ is a big experiment that starts now.” Of course, experiments can also fail – “but even then they still provide valuable results for the next experiment.”

“I secretly hope that ‘FÄKT’ will succeed in building a lasting bridge between science and young people, based on trust and eye level,” says Bergthaler.

Laughing postscript: “If this offer is well received, there would be a few more ideas for ‘FÄKT’.”

Source: Krone


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