Science Makes Trieste Great Again

Trieste, European City of Science 2020, can teach something to the rest of Italy.

Trieste
Husond [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Trieste is the European City of Science 2020

I think it was fundamental for me to experience that great opening of the Gulf of Trieste, a sea in itself modest but that gives a sense of openness, the endless horizon that seems to prelude other, larger seas and oceans — Claudio Magris

Border regions and cities have always had a certain charm: different populations and languages meet there, one country slowly fades into another. For its natural conformation, Trieste represents a border city which is particularly open, bridging the East with the West, the sea with the mainland. Once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then point of contention between Italy and the Balkans, it fascinated and inspired poets, artists and intellectuals such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba.

What is perhaps less known is that Trieste has much more to offer to its visitors beyond its natural and cultural heritage: the city has been in fact nominated European City of Science 2020.

About the event

Created in 2004, the Euro Science Open Forum (ESOF) is a biennial, pan-European, general science conference dedicated to scientific research and innovation. The event will take place between June and July 2020 in the Old Port of Trieste. More precisely, it will consist of a series of seminars and workshops for researchers, in a “Science-to-business” programme where researchers will have the opportunity to engage with policy-makers and entrepreneurs, and in a public engagement programme in the form of a festival. The ESOF 2020 motto is “Freedom for Science, Science for Freedom”, underlining the aim of the organizers to free science from prejudices and restrictions and to make science as open and inclusive as possible.

Differently from the European Capital of Culture, being Matera in 2019 and Rijeka in 2020, ESOF is not an initiative of the European Commission, but it is rather organized by a non-profit association of European researchers. Be it for the promoters or for the targeted audience, national newspapers and media barely mentioned the nomination of Trieste for this event.

Why Trieste?

However, in terms of innovation and research, the Friuli Venezia Giulia region would have something to teach to the rest of Italy. The 2019 edition of the Regional Innovation Scoreboard, the instrument to assess innovation at the regional level developed by the European Commission, defines in fact Friuli Venezia Giulia as a strong innovator. The region is by far the best performing region in Italy — also better than Lombardy. Numbers may not tell the entire story, but here’s some figures on what is happening in the easternmost point of Italy.

The “Science and Information System” of Friuli Venezia Giulia gathers public and private research institutions within the region. It counts almost 2000 researchers working on R&D, 6000 academic researchers and 34000 university students. The city of Trieste alone hosts more than 30 national and international centers and companies working in research and higher education, with a specific focus on physics, biomedicine, ICT and technology. The technological hub of the city, called “Area Science Park”, includes the prestigious research centers Elettra Sincrotrone, ICGB (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) and INFN (National Institute of Nuclear Physics).

Thus, Trieste constitutes an center of excellence in a country where public expenditure on education is below the European average (4.1% of GDP compared to an average of 5%), where universities struggle to get funds and researchers are often forced to go abroad. Moreover, thanks to its geographical position, the research carried out in Trieste can help connect us with the Central and Eastern European scientific community and civil society. As the examples of the Science and Information System and of the Area Science Park show, scientific progress and innovation are possible only where networks between different disciplines and actors are created.

Hopefully, the scope of this event will reach beyond a specific time and place, suggesting that education and research expenditure are key to make Italy an attractive place where to live and work.

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