Lec­tures in bars

Are pub­lic talks and lec­tur­ing be­com­ing a reg­u­lar way to spend free time in Ukraine?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Oleh Feya

Pub­lic talks and lec­tur­ing as reg­u­lar way to spend free time in Ukraine

It is Satur­day evening. Small Opera in Kyiv is full. Ulana Suprun is jok­ing on a stage, telling the au­di­ence how to “de­stroy the Sovi­etism in sci­ence”. Peo­ple are laugh­ing. This is how the Sci­ence Slam, a pub­lic lec­ture, set as an “in­tel­lec­tual bat­tle” be­tween sci­en­tists, be­gins.

Ac­cord­ing to the slam rules, each par­tic­i­pant can only talk about their own re­search and not longer than 10 min­utes. Their speech must be short, sim­ple and right on point. In fact, this is more of a sci­en­tific stand-up show, dur­ing which aca­demics are telling the pub­lic about their work. Fos­sils and bird-di­nosaurs that pop­u­lated Earth mil­lions of year ago. Sym­met­ric de­riv­a­tives. Us­age of nu­clear mag­netic res­o­nance to fight the measles virus. Trans­for­ma­tion of fi­bro­plasts into car­diomy­ocytes us­ing the CRISPR edit­ing sys­tem. The range of the top­ics is gen­uinely wide and the au­di­ence are the one who get to choose win­ners. Or­gan­is­ers mea­sure the vol­ume of ap­plause us­ing the sound level me­ter and hand in the prize to the win­ner — the boxer gloves. It is a real “bat­tle” af­ter all. More­over, some guests’ re­search is out of scope of the con­tests — such as for­mer min­is­ter of Health of Ukraine, Ulana Suprun and Yevhen Dykiy, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Sci­en­tific Antarc­tic Cen­tre.


This for­mat has its ori­gins in Amer­i­can “Po­etry Slams” — young po­ets’ con­tests, which were held in bars. In­stead of po­etry we are deal­ing with sci­ence here, though. First sci­en­tific slams were held in Ger­man bars, de­stroy­ing the bound­aries and per­cep­tion of sci­ence as some­thing dis­tant and bor­ing, some­thing con­cealed in the depth of lab­o­ra­to­ries. Af­ter­wards, this for­mat be­came in­cred­i­bly pop­u­lar, its au­di­ence reached few thou­sands and the lec­tures were moved from bars to con­cert halls.

“France has a con­test. You have to ex­plain the topic of your dis­ser­ta­tion in 180 sec­onds,” says Stefania Ivashchenk­o, who holds PhD in bio­chem­istry and is a con­tes­tant in Sci­ence Slam. “Un­for­tu­nately, while I was study­ing in Greno­ble, I sim­ply did not have any en­ergy left to pre­pare for those lec­tures. I re­ceived my PhD sev­eral months ago. I fig­ured I would want to gen­er­alise re­sults of my work and share it with a non-aca­demic au­di­ence. Two weeks be­fore this event

I saw and ad on Face­book and I im­me­di­ately con­tacted the or­gan­is­ers. I sent them a short funny story of the project, then the video, where I did ex­plain ev­ery­thing in a very sim­plis­tic way. When they con­firmed my par­tic­i­pa­tion, I sent them a pre­sen­ta­tion, which I was grad­u­ally im­prov­ing as I pre­pared. In my lec­tures I fo­cused on ob­jects and meth­ods of my stud­ies — vi­ral non-structural pro­teins and nu­clear mag­netic res­o­nance. I have also thrown in some jokes in or­der to make it eas­ier for the au­di­ence to ab­sorb this com­pli­cated in­for­ma­tion.”

An­other for­mat of such lec­tures, adopted from the West is TEDx. This for­mat orig­i­nated from Amer­i­can con­fer­ence TED Talks (short for Tech­nol­ogy En­ter­tain­ment De­sign). This con­fer­ence’s slo­gan was “Ideas Worth Spread­ing”. Since 2009 there has been more than 100 lec­tures held in more than 15 cities across Ukraine. TEDx events pay less at­ten­tion to sci­ence and fo­cus more on mo­ti­va­tional speak­ers and sto­ries of suc­cess as well as projects with a strong so­cial back­ground. For­mer min­is­ter of econ­omy, Pavlo Sheremeta, his­to­rian Yaroslav Hryt­sak, TV host Yan­ina Sokolova, afore­men­tioned Ulana Suprun as well as Yevheniya Zakrevska, the lawyer for “Heavenly Hun­dred” fam­i­lies, all gave their speeches here.

“Once I was or­gan­is­ing TEDx, and I thought it would per­fect to make an only sci­ence-based con­fer­ence. This is how we founded our for­mer project, Brain&Ukraine,” ex­plains Olena Skyrta, who es­tab­lished INSCIENCE along with Anna Oryekhova. Anna has spent more than two years try­ing to pop­u­lar­ize sci­ence and com­bine it with busi­ness. Last year they or­ga­nized one of the big­gest con­fer­ences in Ukraine — speak­ers from NASA, Mars So­ci­ety, Pol­ish Coper­ni­cus Cen­tre were in­vited to this event.

“Even be­fore this event we’ve es­tab­lished reg­u­lar hap­pen­ings named Sci­ence&Wine, where sci­en­tists tell their sto­ries ac­com­pa­ny­ing it with a glass of wine. They talk about cre­ativ­ity, in­tel­lect and love. We held those events in the Cen­tral Ob­ser­va­tory of the Na­tional Acad­emy of Sciences of Ukraine, com­bin­ing th­ese talks with guided tours and look­ing at stars to­gether. We have then been based at Closer and IZONE art spa­ces,” tells us Olena Skyrta.

Ac­cord­ing to Anna Oryekhova, some of the fun­ni­est events of INSCIENCE were sci­ence par­ties held in museums — Sci­ence Af­ter Dark. “Those ‘smart’ par­ties were held af­ter the museums were closed and were car­ried out up un­til mid­night. We pre­pare those to­gether with our friends from the ‘Kun­sht’ mag­a­zine. We are pre­par­ing in­ter­est­ing talks and lec­tures, and we are also get­ting var­i­ous Ukrainian aca­demics in­volved; we cre­ate the­matic quests and even com­pose songs about the sci­ence. All of this is done while sip­ping some wine, cock­tails and lis­ten­ing to the sounds of a DJ set. Peo­ple come here in groups, hop­ing to meet new friends, party all night and learn a lot of new things about them­selves and the world around them.” Start­ing from Oc­to­ber 2019 co­founder of the project ini­ti­ated a set of lec­tures aimed at teenagers named SCI­ENCE TEEN PLAT­FORM. Th­ese lec­tures won a schol­ar­ship of­fered by the In­ter­na­tional Viseg­rad Fund. Ac­cord­ing to Anna Oryekhova, the schol­arhip pro­vides a half-year long prom­gram for chil­dren aged 13-17. Var­i­ous Eu­ro­pean and Ukrainian aca­demics and sci­en­tist hold dif­fer­ent in­ter­ac­tive lec­trues and work­shops on three top­ics — the space, the man and the en­vi­ron­ment. “Chil­dren cre­ate comets, which look so nat­u­ral and real; they dis­cuss Steven Hawk­ing’s books and de­sign plans to fight global threat to en­vi­ron­ment. In April 2002 we plan to hold a big sci­ence fes­ti­val for the chil­dren; they will be able to meet and talk to var­i­ous sci­en­tists and learn about the sci­ence in Ukraine and across the globe. Our aim is to make sci­ence an ir­re­place­able part of their lives re­gard­less of a ca­reer path they pick for them­selves.”

Ac­cord­ing to or­gan­is­ers, when one de­cides to cre­ate a pop­u­lar sci­ence project in Ukraine, they have to be ready to be con­stantly look­ing for fund­ing. Some of the events, such as the afore­men­tioned Sci­ence&Wine and Sci­ence Af­ter Dark usu­ally paid off be­cause of the sale of tick­ets and spon­sors. Some of the free projects, such as lec­tures for teenagers were funded thanks to grants and spon­sors. “We can see that busi­nesses be­comes more and more in­ter­ested in sci­ence, — says Anna Oryekhova. — This way busi­nesses can give back to com­mu­nity and cre­ate an im­age of a smart brand.”


TED con­fer­ences in­spired an­other Ukrainian project — 15x4 Talks. The name it­self has been de­signed to re­flect the for­mat of th­ese events — there are 4 lec­tures last­ing 15 min­utes each. Ac­cord­ing to the or­gan­is­ers, the 15x4 project aims to pop­u­larise the idea of sci­ence pop­u­lar­iza­tion it­self. A 15-minute lec­ture is held in a way to give its au­di­ence the ba­sic knowl­edge re­gard­ing cer­tain sci­en­tific prob­lem and en­cour­age them to learn more on their own, af­ter the lec­ture; for ex­am­ple by ad­vis­ing the lis­ten­ers on fur­ther read­ing ma­te­ri­als or other in­ter­est­ing sources of in­for­ma­tion. This project is also an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of self-or­gan­i­sa­tion — each 15x4 cen­tre holds re­hearsals for young aca­demics and sci­en­tists, teach­ing them pub­lic speak­ing and how to deal with crit­i­cism from other mem­bers of sci­en­tific com­mu­nity. Ac­cord­ing to the 15x4 rules, every­one must speak at least twice. This also in­cludes ex­pe­ri­enced lec­tures. Vol­un­teers usu­ally pro­vide ad­min­is­tra­tive and op­er­a­tional sup­port — they shoot and cut videos, record lec­tures, put on ads. For in­stance, or­gan­is­ers from Kh­mel­nyt­skyi part­nered with the lo­cal TV sta­tion, which is record­ing the ses­sions and airs them on their chan­nel, while the 15x4 team has a good ma­te­rial for their YouTube chan­nel. Un­til to­day this chan­nel has had nearly 70,000 sub­scribers, while the most pop­u­lar videos re­ceived more than one hun­dred thou­sand views.

“I’ve held many sim­i­lar lec­tures and at some point I re­al­ized that pre­par­ing this lec­tures has never been more tir­ing. I have there­fore de­cided to gather other en­thu­si­asts of th­ese events and we would share the event among the four of us — this way it’s eas­ier”, says Olek­sandr Ha­pak, a Kharkiv-born founder of 15x4. “In Au­gust 2015 we held our first set of lec­tures in Kharkiv, and then even­tu­ally came to Kyiv and Lviv. We usu­ally host up to two hun­dred lis­ten­ers on our reg­u­lar events, and we’ve al­ways strug­gled to find an ap­pro­pri­ate plat­form for this. Right now in Kharkiv we are based in Na­tional Univer­sity of Karazin, and be­fore that we or­ga­nized our lec­ture in the In­sti­tute of Sin­gle Crys­tals.”

“Our first event was held in Kyiv in Oc­to­ber 2015,” says Olek­san­dra Malevych, founder of Kyiv branch of 15x4. “It took us one month to pre­pare un­til we man­aged to find a proper lo­ca­tion, lec­tur­ers, ed­i­tors and we were morally ready to be­gin those events. For in­stance, out of all our five lo­ca­tions, only one plat­form agreed to pro­vide us their premises for free — be­cause the project



was non-com­mer­cial. Of course, we had to spend some of our own money in the early stages of this project and pay the rent or the film­ing crew our­selves, be­cause we be­lieved that tak­ing money from the au­di­ence goes against the phi­los­o­phy of our project. Some­time later, when 15x4 be­came a well-known un­der­tak­ing, we were in­vited to dif­fer­ent art-spa­ces and there were also vol­un­teers will­ing to help us with film­ing or cut­ting the videos. Our events have al­ways been full and there were queues of peo­ple will­ing to par­tic­i­pate, so we were con­stantly look­ing for a space that could host more peo­ple. We wanted to get peo­ple in­ter­ested in sci­ence and we’ve made it. When I opened 15x4 in Kyiv, there hasn’t been a sin­gle free open pub­lic lec­ture here. We would tell peo­ple all th­ese cu­ri­ous cap­ti­vat­ing sto­ries af­ter which they would come home and start look­ing for more an­swers, us­ing Google and do­ing re­search them­selves; learn­ing more about what ther­monu­clear syn­the­sis was and how log­i­cal mis­takes can af­fect peo­ple’s lives. In a way, it has also been a ther­a­peu­tic project for the young sci­en­tists. This has be­come a place for them to tell the au­di­ence about their work and feel that their re­search is im­por­tant for so­ci­ety and does make sense. Af­ter sev­eral years work­ing at our project we can proudly claim that we’ve helped many peo­ple to stand on their own two feet, train their skills and find col­leagues.”

In ad­di­tion to Ukraine, 15x4 opened branches in Ger­many, Es­to­nia, Italy, Rus­sia and Is­rael. Any­one who ad­heres to the rules of the com­mu­nity, such as free en­try, pro­hi­bi­tion of com­mer­cial or po­lit­i­cal spon­sors, aca­demic con­tent, and oblig­a­tory re­hearsals, can open a 15x4 branch in their city. Ev­ery year 15x4 holds a fes­ti­val in Otrokiv palace in Kh­mel­nyt­skyi Oblast — this in­cludes sev­eral days of lec­tures, work­shops, dis­cus­sions, de­bates as well as a laser show held to cel­e­brate the In­de­pen­dence Day of Ukraine.


Since 2013 many cities in Ukraine were or­ga­niz­ing Days of Sci­ence. This is a full-scale set of lec­tures, held twice a year in the same week­end in sev­eral plat­forms, which in­clude re­search in­sti­tutes, NGOs and even Kyiv Ob­ser­va­tory. Lec­tures, which are present at th­ese events, in­clude stu­dents, PhD can­di­dates and aca­demics from var­i­ous Ukrainian re­search in­sti­tu­tions. Sim­i­larly to 15x4, this vol­un­tary project is free and does not seek funds from com­mer­cial spon­sors. In 2019 the project re­ceived some fund­ing from the City of Kyiv mu­nic­i­pal bud­get. Dr. Ser­hiy Shara­pov, one of the lec­tur­ers, physi­cist and math­e­ma­ti­cian, be­lieves that pop­u­lar­iza­tion of sci­ence is one of his du­ties as an aca­demic and he “has to show to the taxpayer ex­actly what he pays for”. He ac­knowl­edges that, as op­posed to reg­u­lar pro­fes­sional con­fer­ences, it is usu­ally quite dif­fi­cult to come pre­pared for this type of events; rather fre­quently au­di­ence is un­pre­dictable and too di­verse, the lec­turer needs to know how to draw analo­gies known to his pub­lic.

Set of lec­tures called No­bilitet fo­cuses on re­search works, which won No­bel Prize. “When we founded No­bilitet, we wanted to unite the best ex­perts from dif­fer­ent fields of sci­ence and cre­ate a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary com­mu­nity. We aimed to show to, let’s say, physi­cists that lit­er­a­ture may be in­ter­est­ing to talk about, while we wanted to show to lit­er­a­tur­ists that the chem­istry can be cap­ti­vat­ing and prac­ti­cal,” says Va­leriya Losh­manova, a co-founder of this project. Along with Olha Maslova, a PhD can­di­date in bi­ol­ogy, she held her first “No­bel” lec­tures set three years ago. “In ad­di­tion to a mas­sive event, which we or­ga­nized be­fore the ac­tual awards, we hold sep­a­rate lec­tures on a num­ber of top­ics men­tioned in Stock­holm. For in­stance, there is a be­havioural eco­nom­ics mas­ter-class hosted by the PhD can­di­date Bene­dict Ger­rman or a lec­ture about the dis­cov­ery of DNA by Olek­sandr Kolyada.”

Ac­cord­ing to Olha Maslova, be­cause of the unique themes for th­ese lec­tures, it is not al­ways easy to or­ga­nize ev­ery­thing. “No­bel Prize win­ners are an­nounced in Oc­to­ber, while the awards are handed on the 10 De­cem­ber. Hence we only have just a lit­tle less than two months to pre­pare. We re­ally can’t start work­ing with lec­tures un­til we are cer­tain, what top­ics will win this year. It also com­pli­cates the search for spon­sors, be­cause each com­pany wants to sup­port its own top­ics, while we can’t re­ally pre­dict what those are each year. Big­ger or­ga­ni­za­tions also have their own specifics of fi­nan­cial plan­ning, which don’t re­ally al­low them to spare some ex­tra money in Oc­to­ber for an event held in De­cem­ber.”

Sci­ence Night Show is an­other project by Maslova and Losh­manova. This is held in the “night show” for­mat, sim­i­lar to the shows by Michael Schur and Yaroslava Kravchenko, pop­u­lar TV hosts of “Toronto Tele­vi­sion”, who ask aca­demics tricky ques­tions and ex­pect aca­demics to pro­vide a sharp, smart and yet sim­ple an­swer. So far there has only been one sim­i­lar event — and the con­cert hall was full.

In the West sim­i­lar events are called edutainmen­t — ed­u­ca­tion via en­ter­tain­ment. The whole idea of this con­cep­tion is to give peo­ple some skills and knowl­edge us­ing the pop­u­lar en­ter­tain­ment as a tool. This is also done in a re­laxed, easy­go­ing at­mos­phere. Edutainmen­t in­cludes also lec­tures, ed­u­ca­tional shows, in­ter­ac­tive ex­hi­bi­tions, mas­ter classes or work­shops. Ukraine does fol­low the global ten­den­cies in this sphere and if de­mand for an in­tel­lec­tual leisure will keep grow­ing, so will the va­ri­ety of pos­si­ble of­fers on a sci­en­tific mar­ket.

Sci­ence&Wine. Olha Maslova ex­plains how our nu­tri­tion af­fects our brains

Sci­ence Af­ter Dark. In the Na­tional Mu­seum of Medicine

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