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Bringing research into society: Opening of the BE OPEN - Science & Society Festival, left to right: Federal Minister of Science Heinz Faßmann, FWF President Klement Tockner, Executive Vice-President Artemis Vakianis, Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen © FWF/Luiza Puiu

Explore, engage, share: Austrian Science Fund FWF celebrates 50 years of cutting-edge research “made in Austria”

The Austrian Science Fund FWF is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Responsible for the support of basic research, the institution has placed the dialogue between science and society at the centre of its anniversary celebrations at the BE OPEN - Science & Society Festival, which was inaugurated on Saturday morning under the motto “Free Knowledge for Free People”.

In his welcoming speech, FWF President Klement Tockner said that people often asked him why we needed basic research. His answer: “Basic research is an insurance policy for society in order to meet the challenges of the future, most of which we are either unaware of or choose to ignore. With its funding programmes, the FWF currently supports around 4,000 people working in research, more than half of them under 35 years of age. Many of them rank among the world leaders in their discipline. The festival brings these top researchers and their research fields together in one place for five days. “The BE-OPEN Festival is designed to share our enthusiasm for outstanding research with society”, says Tockner and adds: “Free, independent science is a central pillar of an enlightened democracy. We cannot afford not to base decisions which are often of great importance to our society on solid evidence.”

“Research and education are the fuel of future development and they are enriching to each and every one of us, because they open up new worlds for us”, emphasised the Austrian Science Minister Heinz Faßmann at the opening of the Science Festival. “Our concept for the future encompasses well-trained people, research and innovation. Research secures the future - individually and collectively - and is therefore central to all of us.”

In his opening speech, Federal President Alexander Van Der Bellen, who has assumed the patronage of the event, underscored the great contribution made by science and research in Austria. “The FWF and the researchers usually work in the background”, noted Van der Bellen, “it often takes decades until their achievements are acknowledged.” The President therefore considers it an important task to share the achievements of science with the general public, which is exactly the aim of the BE-OPEN event. “We need society to accept that research takes time and its outcomes are uncertain. Openness, curiosity, creativity and intuition are central to research”, declared Van der Bellen.

Strengthening interdisciplinary dialogue

The keynote speech was given by cultural scientist Aleida Assmann, whose research focuses mainly on questions of memory and the past. She took a look into the future of a society driven by progress. According to Assmann, we should not think about whether there is a future and what it will be like, but rather about how we can actively shape this future. “We should think more about the future in the plural”, explained the scholar, who is the winner of this year’s Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. The "memory expert" is convinced that the future must take the past into account. And in order to open up new perspectives in an increasingly complex world, Assmann appealed to her colleagues to engage in a more intense cross-cutting discourse: “It is high time for political, economic, technical and cultural perspectives to become more closely intermeshed in discussions between different disciplines.” 

Showcasing top research

From 8 to 12 September 2018, more than 150 researchers will take part in the BE-OPEN Festival. They present their results, report on the issues they work on and illustrate the omnipresent nature of basic research. 18 pop-up science pavilions showcase findings from a multitude of disciplines, including archaeology and demography, artificial intelligence, quantum physics, stem cell research or evolutionary biology. The exhibitions are complemented by a diverse programme of discussions, talks and a science slam at the FWF Dialog Arena. The focus is on the question of how scientific progress and social responsibility can be strengthened and work together for the benefit of all.

Investments in the future

For 50 years, the Austrian Science Fund FWF has been committed to making research strong, independent and accessible to all. What began in 1968 with a budget of 37 million Austrian schillings and a few projects has now evolved to a budget of 225 million euros and more than 600 projects funded annually. The principles of the FWF have remained unchanged and still represent its strengths today: supporting researchers of all disciplines and at all career stages, with quality as the sole funding criterion.


Ingrid Ladner
Public Relations and Science Communication

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