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Home > Would you like a Science Espresso or a Pop-Up Science Shop?

Would you like a Science Espresso or a Pop-Up Science Shop?


Sparks fourth newsletter is out and it tells you all about a new format of activities designed for the public to meet experts in an informal setting and to spark innovation together. We wish you a pleasant reading!



Would you like a Science Espresso or a Pop-up Science Shop?

Dear Sparks readers,

Welcome to this September issue of our newsletter!
Last time we explored Science centres and museums as places for citizens to engage in research and innovation, now we move on to a less renowned, although crucial actor of RRI: the Science Shop.
Sparks partner WILA Bonn took its pen to relate its meeting with Philipp Wacker - the developer of an intelligent vest for visually-impaired people, to tell you everything about a new format of activities for the public to meet experts in an informal setting and to explain you how an exhibition can spark the beginning of a research project.

We wish you a pleasant reading!


  • What a summer! Beyond the Lab: the DIY Science Revolution exhibition has run for two months in Bonn, London and Warsaw and opened late August in Ljubljana where it is still on view. You can see more of these openings here.
  • The journey continues in Luxembourg (17 September), in Veli Lošinj (HR, 24 September), in Copenhagen (DK, 4 October), and in Granada (ES, 4 October). Check out the Sparks website and calendar for more info.
  • Sparks artist in residence Anouk Wipprecht presented her 'Agent Unicorn' created for the exhibition during the Ars Electronica Festival on Thursday September 8th and Friday September 9th. Find out more about Agent Unicorn at the festival. Lucy McRae's film 'The Intitute of Isolation' was also on show as part of the POSTCITY events. Click here for more info.

VibroVision - Extended perception for visually impaired people

Helen Jones Science Museum
Intelligent wristbands, smart watches or data glasses: the use of wearable technologies is manifold.
These technologies are usually worn close to the body and are especially well known to sports persons using them to measure body performance parameters. But wearable technologies can also be used in the health sector to support people in their daily life.
Within the framework of his Bachelor thesis, a student from RWTH Aachen University developed a device helping visually impaired people to perceive their surroundings through a special vibration technology. ‘VibroVision’ is a vest that projects information about the area in front of the wearer onto the abdomen in the form of a two-dimensional tactile image rendered by an array of vibration motors. The vest enables the user to feel features such as shape, position, and the distance of objects in front of him/her.
Philipp Wacker from the Media Computing Group of RWTH Aachen University presented the vest at the Science Espresso in Bonn on 17 August 2016. Grounded in computer science, the Media Computing Group works in media computing and human-computer interaction (HCI). The Group aims at making the brand new world of interactive technologies accessible to lay users.

WILA: Who initiated the project that led to the vest you presented and what was the general idea behind the research?
PW: The idea of the project came from an exchange student who wrote his Bachelor thesis at our chair. The general idea was to enhance the perception of blind people. The student started his Bachelor thesis in early 2016 with the construction of the vest prototype. The initial experience is very promising but for detailed tests regarding the perception of vibration patterns we need an improved version which we are working on at the moment.

How does the vest work?
A depth-sensing camera on the vest records the environment and obstacles in front of the user. The image is then processed causing vibrations on the user’s stomach in a position corresponding to the obstacle. The intensity of the vibrations varies according to the proximity of the obstacle. So if a person is walking from one side to another in front of the person wearing the vest, the wearer will also feel a vibration moving from side to side on the stomach.

How will you proceed? What are your next plans, building on this first prototype?
Currently we are working on an improved version of the vest. With this version we will conduct both studies regarding the general perception of vibration as well as studies involving visually impaired participants to figure out what and how information should be presented using vibrations.

What experiences are you taking home from the Science Espresso?
It was a very pleasant and interesting experience. The main positive points for me are a lot of useful impressions from visually impaired persons regarding related approaches and important points to consider in developing the vest, as well as contacts for our user studies.

If you are interested in VibroVision, take a look at


Science what? Espresso! Shorter than a café but snappy. The idea behind the Sparks Science Espressos is to create an opportunity for the public to meet experts and researchers outside their professional context and talk with them in an informal manner. Bonn’s citizens interested in medicine and health were given this opportunity over the last six weeks. Every Wednesday they were invited by Bonn Science Shop to spend their lunch break at the LVR-LandesMuseum Bonn to listen, discuss and ask questions. Researchers from different disciplines such as sports science, computer science or nutrition science presented their current research, a new invention or initiative and discussed the participants’ questions in just 30 minutes.
The event format has been well received by the public. When Dr Annika Steinmann from the German Sport University Cologne presented her research on beauty ideals, doping and prevention measures, 42 people attended the Science Espresso. Today’s ambition of steadily increasing performance affects many people. Dr Steinmann explains that the societal cult focusing on our outer appearance can make people of all ages ill. Doping already starts with drinking coffee and taking painkillers. A scientific study reveals that 60% of marathon runners take painkillers to reach the finish line. In her research Dr Steinmann focuses on young people, a group that is easily influenced by the media. Together with schools, she implemented a prevention concept to protect pupils from unrealistic beauty and performance ideals.
Sparks promotes RRI by inviting key stakeholders to actively question, experiment and play with science in a way that makes it relevant to today’s society.
But what is relevant for today’s society? Facing the EU’s Great Societal Challenges demands mutual learning and collaboration of different stakeholders, in particular science – researchers, students and research institutions – and society – citizens and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).

The Sparks project aims to engage citizens by connecting an exhibition telling the stories of modern day pioneers in science with innovative participatory activities. These formats comprise one Reversed Science Café, six Science Espressos and one compulsory activity that project partners will implement in their country. One of the compulsory activities is the Pop-up Science Shop.
But where does this shop “pop up” and what can one buy there?

Public participation in research through a Pop-up Science Shop is based on Science Shops’ methodology of transferring requests from community groups to research organisations. Thus, Science Shops are not “shops” in the traditional sense of the word. A
Science Shop is a unit that provides independent participatory research support in response to concerns expressed by civil society. Science Shops can be seen as valuable and experienced actors to bridge the gap between research and society and mediate mutual learning and cooperation processes. Using this participatory activity in Sparks allows for a time-limited experimentation on how new and different approaches in society-research communication and interaction can be combined.

Science Shops as institutions or organisations have a positive impact both on research and teaching and on civil society. By mediating between citizens and citizen groups and research institutions they support the idea of public engagement within the concept of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). But providing information on its own is not sufficient to raise citizens’ understanding of scientific information. Sparks’ Pop-up Science Shops aim at encouraging citizens to actively participate in science by formulating research requests and initiating a dynamics of community-based research. Citizens and other stakeholders’ issues are then translated into research questions, mobilising them to feed science and research with their real needs, expectations and ideas. Health and medicine as the overall topics of the exhibition are of relevance to everybody and people will have various questions. Whereas Science Shops are often, but not always, linked to or based in universities the Sparks Science Shops ‘pop up’ only for the duration of the exhibition. Therefore, the exhibition can function as “a place to go” for seeking research support. Sparks partners who choose this activity will identify researchers willing to cooperate — meaning reading the questions received and reflecting on how to process them — as well as create commitment to ensure that they are formulated as research questions, transferred to researchers and followed up until a certain time after the exhibition.

Through the Pop-up Science Shop accompanying the Sparks exhibition, citizens or CSOs get the opportunity to take an active part in the research process and have full access to the results of the research and its use. Participating researchers will benefit from the contextual knowledge of the CSOs and students are enabled to do their practical work on a real life case. The Pop-up Science Shops facilitate CSO – Research cooperation and thus create win-win situations.

Details about the Science Shop methodology can be found
Are you a researcher? Are you interested in taking part of a Pop-up Science Shop? Contact the Sparks partner in your country to see if it will run a one!
This newsletter was written by Bonn Science Shop (WILA Bonn).
Founded in 1984 against the idea of scientists working in an 'ivory tower' without citizens benefiting from their research, Bonn Science Shop dedicates its work to key social challenges: energy transition, sustainable work fields, social justice, just to name a few. Bonn Science Shop believes that such challenges can only be overcome by closely involving citizens’ opinions, needs and life experience in scientific research.
Coordination: KEA European Affairs, communication leader in the Sparks project.

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Events date: 
Friday, September 16, 2016