JKU Open Lab: A Stadium Full of Future Researchers

21,530 children and teens have taken part in conducting chemistry experiments at the JKU’s Open Lab, sparking their interest in the field of natural sciences. Just to compare, the Linz stadium can seat 21,005 people.

[Translate to Englisch:] (c) Zachl

The successful program has now been extended for an additional four years. Back in 2013, the JKU, Borealis and the Upper Austrian government began their own experiment: providing an opportunity for school-age students – starting in kindergarten already – to discover the exciting world of science by conducting hands-on experiences instead of listening to a presentation or classroom lecture. The JKU Open Lab was born. Under the academic guidance of JKU researchers, seven groups of school students visit the Open Lab weekly to conduct experiments. Lab manager Dr. Silke Renger remarked, “We cannot even keep up with the demand – the capacity is at 135%.”

JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas explained, “New discoveries begin the same way: a curious individual poses a question and children are the most inquisitive of all. This is where we start. If we can spark their interest in engineering and natural sciences at an early age, we can educate a future generation of scientists to continue working toward social progress.”

Girls in the Majority
A particularly noteworthy fact is that although the overall number of women in research, science and academia continues to be underrepresented, there is hope for the next generation. Out of 11,197 participants, girls represented 52% of the budding young scientists compared to 10,333 boys (48%).

Mark Garrett, CEO of Borealis, added, “We have been supporting educational initiatives for several years now. We are committed to encouraging younger generations to learn more about research and natural sciences and contribute to a better, more conscious use of resources and the help save the environment. I am pleased the JKU’s Open Lab will continue its valuable work for another four years as our society urgently needs trained specialists and experts who make it their job to pursue innovative solutions and make our future better.”

To boost the effectiveness of sponsoring activities and align them with a sustainability strategy as effectively as possible, Borealis focuses on programs in three areas funded by the Borealis Social Fund:

-        Education and social integration

-        Water and sanitation (Water for the World)

-        Resource efficiency and avoiding trash disposal at sea

Dr. Michael Strugl, Deputy Governor and State Economic Minister, remarked, “The budding young scientists of today are tomorrow’s researchers and engineers. The JKU Open Lab makes science more tangible and is important initiative to spark our children’s interest in research and technology. Extending the lab for another four-year period underscores the excellent work scientists are doing at the JKU’s Open Lab. At the same time, this is an important contribution to sustainably protect Upper Austria as a location of business and research and provide trained experts.”

Hands-on Research
The interest continues to grow. Students from schools in Lower Austria, Salzburg and Passau are now also coming to the JKU. In 2014, 3,068 school students attend the workshops and by 2018, the number has grown to 7,372 school students – an increase of 140% and a good reason to extend the successful cooperation to 2022.