Science begins to celebrate

30th Science Festival It is held until October 11 in mainland France and from November 5 to 22 abroad and worldwide. An event created in 1992 after the success of a local gathering organized in the gardens of the Ministry of Research, in Paris, in June 1991. Today the Science Festival gathers 1.2 million participants and 10 million people. Internet users (official figures for 2019, last version before Covid).

Back to the origins of the event with Marie-Noel Favier, former documentary filmmaker with Commander Cousteau and Head of the Department of Scientific and Technical Culture (CST) at the Ministry of Research (1984-1998). In 1991 she co-founded what has since become the Science Festival.

How did the fête de la science originate?

Science Festival was not created by nihilo. The idea was to highlight at one time of the year all the activities and actions that are carried out on the national territory. There was a political will on the part of the enlightened minister, Hubert Kurian, who wanted to bring science closer to the citizens, and the youth in particular.

We were inspired by Quebec, as “Quinzaine des sciences” is organized by the Société de Promotion des sciences. Fête de la science was born in 1992 but the year before we celebrated ten years of the Ministry of Research in Gardens, rue Descartes. On this occasion, we created a science village open to the general public, with scientific manipulations, rocket launches, and chemical experiments. A whole series of major conferences with supporters such as Hubert Reeves, Pierre-Gilles de Gennes, etc. And this event was very successful! Minister Hubert Kurian, who was in office at the time, found that we should publish it more widely.

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The success of Fête de la Musique, another popular gathering created shortly before [en 1982]It inspired us, too. This was part of a context in which we wanted to implement a regional policy for scientific and technical culture. Cité des sciences has opened [en 1986], Scientific and technical cultural centers were established in the regions: the idea was to devise a symbolic event for the implementation of each policy connecting the territory.

The Gardens of the Ministry of Research opened to the public in 1991, a year before the establishment of the Festival des Sciences Across France.

Credits: Ministry of Scientific Research

What did visitors find at the 1991 event?

This was the first event and there was a lot of excitement in these ministry gardens: tents welcomed the crowd that roamed around the union and scientific partners who came to make demonstrations. Manipulators at the Palais de la Découverte set up small chemical experiments, and the Planète Sciences Association launched rockets. We have mobilized scholars and psychics, who have helped make this process fun and engaging for the general public.

Do you remember the anecdote about launching small rockets in the Ministry’s garden?

The Minister of Research at the time, Hubert Kurian, was the father of the Ariane rocket. He had chaired the CNES and authorized the National Youth Technical Association, which has since become Planet Science, to launch small rockets. But one of them did not quite follow the planned path and fell on the roof of the ministry. The security men responded and wanted to stop all these sudden movements, but the minister arrived on the balcony: “If I had to stop firing Ariane missiles with all the damage, we would never have succeeded, so let these guys try!”, He said. “Let’s try” : This is one of the greatest Fête de la science words for children in particular.

What audience were you targeting?

The aim of the Fête de la science was to reach the general public. The idea was to look beyond those who already frequent museums, the Cité des sciences or the Palais de la Découverte. Several movements occurred at the same time: the opening of laboratories to bring people, including in the regions, in unknown places. I often cite the example of CEA-Cesta (Centre for Scientific and Technical Studies in Aquitaine), near Bordeaux, which opened its doors for the first time. It is a site where fairly sensitive research is carried out on the Megajoule laser, which allows experiments with physical models to simulate nuclear charges. It’s a “secret” place that opened for the first time.

In addition, there was already the idea of ​​educating young people. Minister Hubert Kurian was very keen on this: creating encounters between scholars, carriers of knowledge, and young audiences. There were a lot of them: in high schools, schools or through the creation of small specific experiences for this young audience.

At first, we started “small” by organizing the event over three days. The first event was in June but this period was a bit crowded for academics and schoolchildren, the meeting moved to October of 1995. Then the event was extended to become Science Week in 1998, in order to reach a wider audience, so that they have time to organize events during school time. In 2000, the name “Fête de la science” came back and the term was extended to more than ten days.

Astrophysicist Hubert Reeves and astronaut Claudie André-Deshayes (who has since become Claudie Hainery) during "The flag is celebrated in 1994".
Astrophysicist Hubert Reeves and astronaut Claudie-Andre Deschais (who has since become Claude Henriy) during “La science en fête en 1994.”

Credits: Ministry of Scientific Research

What do you think of this success?

We felt that there was a thirst for science, that there was a demand. This corresponds to a period of questioning about scientific progress, about what the philosopher Dominique Lecourt called Hot science questions. Then it came to the applications of science in nuclear energy and genetically modified organisms … controversial questions in which the public felt the need for answers and dialogue; Climate change and vaccines were already raising questions at the time. The funny look we’ve been doing, with the Science Village, really meet the audience. About 540,000 people participated from June 11-14, 1992, and today the number has stabilized at around 2 million.

What is the principle of the scientific village?

It’s a concept that was very festive and unifying. The motto was to present it everywhere in France, in public places: whether in places such as the Capitol in Toulouse or the Bargemon in Marseille, at scientific universities such as the BRGM (Bureau de recherche Géologique and Mining) in Orleans or at Génopole in Evry In universities too. That there are symbolic places where science tent villages can be born, such as Christmas markets, where scholars and psychics can offer their own festive and playful experiences. I remember an event organized at the Place de la Comédie in Montpellier, where a huge rice field was set up to raise awareness of this fragile ecosystem… There were many highlights, which are still in our memory.

The goal was also to raise calls among young people?

Yes, and I have met many people who tell me that their calling was born in part during these moments of encounter and exchange. Many people tell us that, especially among girls, they were familiar with this hilarious way of presenting science. It was one of the goals of the Fête de la science and Hubert Curien was very sensitive to it. He really wanted to stir up invitations among the youth. However, we can sometimes wonder when we see today how receptive people are to misinformation. But that is not why we should give up. On the contrary, I would say that we must continue to make people discover where science is developing.

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