Twenty years ago, at the New Town Market Square in Warsaw, one of the reporters attending the first Science Picnic of Polskie Radio BIS decided to interview an elegantly dressed girl of primary school age. “Do you like the shows here?” the reporter asked. “Yes, I do,” the little girl replied. “And why is that?” the reporter enquired. I still remember the little girl’s answer to that question: “Because everything here is so interesting, whereas school is boring.”
At every Science Picnic, by courtesy of reporters, I take the opportunity to try to ask this person, today an adult, to contact me. She may have children of her own who are going to preschool or school. She may be a teacher or a scientist, a boutique owner or a lawyer. I would like to ask her if she still thinks of science as interesting.
Over 20 years ago, I appeared in the office of Krystyna Kępska-Michalska, back then director of Polskie Radio BIS (a now no-longer-existing institution that contributed greatly to our culture, science, and civilization). I wanted to persuade her and her deputy, Robert Firmhofer, to take a step into the future. To try to make this interesting world of science, as discussed on Radio BIS programs, accessible to the man on the street, to every citizen. They did not need much persuading. Several months later, on a rainy evening, the three of us were standing on a stage in front of the former “Wars” cinema, telling crowds of Warsaw residents that it was unfortunately time to call it a day. We were closing down the stands that had offered the world’s most interesting product, science, albeit only a for a brief moment. We would open them again in just one year, making them even better and even more interesting.
That is exactly what happened. And it is still happening!
Stormy events have unfolded throughout the history of Poland, the organizational structure of Polish Radio has changed, and we have witnessed the establishment of the Copernicus Science Centre in Warsaw (if it had not been for the success of the Science Picnics, the Centre would have probably not come into existence, because the Copernicus team, along with its wonderful director Robert Firmhofer, has drawn specifically on the Picnic experience). Every year, regardless of everything else, this largest outdoor science-popularization event in Europe continues to attract crowds of people. The Picnic has won the recognition of not only those who throng to it but also numerous international organizations, and it has provided the inspiration for many similar science picnics organized on a much smaller scale in dozens of cities in Poland and abroad.
Twenty years ago, almost in parallel with the Science Picnic, the first Science Festival in Poland was held in Warsaw. Over the years, the Festival, intended as a more low-key event, has also spawned numerous offspring and, most importantly, played a major role in the establishment of “Copernicus.”
Together, we form one big family of those who aim to fulfil the dreams of that little girl who attended the first Picnic: to make science, as taught in schools, truly more interesting than recent gossip on Facebooks and turn experiments in school labs into enthralling experiences.
Over those 20 years, the Picnic has lasted thanks to the determination of its organisers – a surprisingly stable yet not very large group of Radio staff, scientists, reporters, and “Copernicus” people. Together, we have weathered many storms and periods in which the wind was not blowing in the expected direction. After those 20 years, as I am nearing my own horizon, I am not quite sure how I can express all my gratitude, respect and friendship. I think you know how much you mean to me. I regret that many participants of the first Picnic are no longer with us. I remember them all.
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to all the presidents of Polish Radio with whom we have worked for the past 20 years. If our discussions sometimes ran counter to your expectations, I take full responsibility for this fact and ask you to continue to work together with us in an equally friendly atmosphere. I would like to express my thanks to the Warsaw city authorities. If it had not been for their assistance, such a grand event, organized through the mass mobilization of the scientific milieu and held for the first time 20 years ago, would not have lasted until the present day.
My thanks also go to the state authorities for helping us find a venue in the National Stadium and the Management Board of the Stadium for tuning in to our activity so wonderfully. I also thank all the technical institutions in Warsaw, the policy, the city guards, the fire brigade and the rescue services for guiding us through all these years.
My warmest thanks of course go to all those who have attended the Science Picnic – almost two million visitors. We continue to stand together thanks to you and for you.
May the Force (of Science) be with you!
Prof. Łukasz A. Turski