Public Engagement at Liceo Scientifico Albert Einstein (Palermo, Italy)

On 21st November 2019, ESR Dario Campisi was invited to the Liceo Scientifico Albert Einstein (LSAE) in Palermo, Italy as part of the high school’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Dario, an alumnus of LSAE, readily accepted this invitation. Over the course of the morning, he gave three lectures to different groups of students (~100 students in total) on the topic of astrochemistry. His talk covered a general introduction on chemical elements and molecules, highlighting their importance and relevance to astrochemistry. He discussed how we can detect such molecules in space, and concluded with a description of his work as a quantum astrochemist and his role within the EUROPAH network. During the talks, Dario engaged the young and curious minds of the audience with a discussion-led approach that allowed the students to ask and answer scientific questions and draw their own conclusions about ongoing astrochemical research.

Dario during the morning lecture
Dario and the audience in the afternoon

Following the lectures with the students, Dario spent the afternoon delivering yet another talk (lasting half an hour) to a broader audience of ~200 people in varying age groups. Here, he discussed the molecular complexity that characterises the universe. Dario’s talk received a lot of interest from the audience, and one question he was particularly impressed by was regarding the duality of PAHs: on Earth, PAHs tend to be avoided for their mutagenic and carcinogenic properties, but in the interstellar medium we consider them vital for astrochemistry and astrobiology research as they are believed to be the pre-cursors of life-bearing molecules such as DNA and proteins! In addition to such sharp scientific inquiries, Dario also received a host of questions about life as an early-career researcher, the pros and cons of living abroad, studying in a foreign language, and of course, the most important question of all: who can be an astrochemist? (Answer: anyone!)

Dario’s talk during the conference

Credit: Sanjana Panchagnula