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A major experiment - Experiencing science up close

In the Student Research Centre in Saarlouis, students can discover how fascinating the supposedly uncool natural sciences can be.

Officially opened in 2015, the city's Student Research Centre offers three large laboratories as well as rooms for meetings and management where the students can work in groups on various experiments, guided by video tutorials on permanently installed computers, familiar from YouTube.

"Initial feedback indicates great enthusiasm", says Benjamin Brück, who came up with the idea of establishing the Student Research Centre. "When a robot built by the students themselves starts to move for the first time, they’re all thrilled." Brück teaches maths and physics at Max-Planck-Gymnasium in Saarlouis and heads the SinnTec student laboratory at the University of Saarland. "Working in the student lab enabled me to experience how valuable it is when MINT subjects are not taught as boring theoretical disciplines but can be experienced as part of practical experiments."

But standard "dry theory" means that young talent is missing in MINT subjects (i.e. disciplines such as maths, IT, natural sciences and technology). This lack of young students is particularly apparent among girls, who are eight times less likely than boys to choose training in MINT. As a result, a younger generation of science students will not be available to industry, research and business.

"Even when I was going to school, it was regarded as cool to find the natural sciences uncool", laments Andreas Schütze, a physicist who supports the SinnTec student lab at the University of Saarland. "Issues such as the energy revolution or withdrawal from the nuclear energy programme are only comprehensible when you have at least some basic understanding of science", claims Professor Schütze.

And it is exactly this basic understanding of natural sciences, or even an interest in them, which the student laboratories aim to convey. The range of laboratories offered by Saarland includes a Centre for Nanotechnology, a centre of expertise for experimental molecular medicine, and the EnerTec-Energie student laboratory for renewable energies, which has been supported by the Peter-und-Luise-Hager Foundation for some time now.

The administrative district provides the premises of the Saarlouis Student Research Centre in the "In den Fliesen" community school. And the Saarland Ministry of Education and the Arts sponsors teacher hours for developing and supervising the laboratory work. Laboratory equipment, on the other hand, has been essentially financed by foundations such as the Peter-und-Luise-Hager Foundation.

Professor Schütze recently discovered just how much of a life-changing impact such experiments can have through one of his students working as a student assistant at the SinnTec student laboratory. "We like to deploy students as supervisors, as they obviously have much more direct access to pupils than we oldies", explains Schütze. The young man grabbed Schütze’s attention as he had supplemented his Abitur exam in chemistry with experiments which he had designed himself. That was about ten years ago. Meanwhile the young scientist has not only completed his studies; he even did his doctorate under Professor Schütze, which was so brilliant that it received an international award.

Now he has the pick of the best of science and industry. And it all started with an experiment.

 © Photos: Student Research Centre Saarlouis 

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