Chile makes way for alternative ideas in Science Education

Following on from its success in Valparaiso, progressive NGO places the
world of scientific discovery at the feet of the local community in

Puerto de Ideas organized the first ever science festival held in Antofagasta, from 11th to 13th April 2014, turning Chile’s northern port city into a vibrant hub of scientific debate and learning.

Antofagasta bubbled with enthusiastic interest as some of the most prominent figures in the world of science, both Chilean and international, were invited to host presentations and educational talks about scientific innovation, theory and thought in a number of venues throughout the city.

Chilean physicist, Andrés Gomberoff, who gave a presentation on time travel, was particularly pleased to see that each event had sold out over the course of the weekend.

“It filled me with delight to see so many people at each exhibition, because the success of Puerto de Ideas in Antofagasta is proof that Chile’s making huge strides towards achieving decentralization,” Gomberoff said.

Puerto de Ideas, a non-profit foundation founded in 2010, orchestrated The Antofagasta Science Festival, Festival de Ciencia de Antofagasta, with the sole purpose of disseminating and promoting both national and international scientific discovery to Chilean communities outside of the country’s capital. Antofagasta’s huge influence on the mining, industrial, commercial and tourist industries made it the perfect location.

For the first time ever, children, young people and adults living in the northern city were able to connect with science and scientists on home turf. More than 8,000 locals from Antofagasta attended the festival, participating in no less than 25 conferences, talks and workshops, held across a range of public spaces in the city, including the Municipal Theatre, The Regional Library and the Ferrocarril Antofagasta Bolivia (FCAB).

Rizzolatti, an Italian neurobiologist who works at the University of Parma, was truly inspired by the Antofagasta community when the Municipal Theatre filled to the brim for his dedicated talk on Mirror neurons and empathy. Rizzolatti explained with enthusiasm that people have a genuine interest in learning about how the human brain works, how it behaves and how it operates in other ways.

His talk revealed how “the human brain creates emotions via expressive representations of others and how the behavior of others allows us to empathize with their emotions without having to go through any kind of mental deduction process.”

As well as demonstrating that the Andean nation can and wants to achieve decentralization, Puerto de Ideas aimed to use the festival to make science fun and interesting for all young Chileans.

“Science, at its most fundamental level, is little more than a series of questions; the exact kind of questions that children ask, but which adults tend to stop analyzing,” explained Gomberoff, who believes that the festival’s educative space gave Antofagasta’s children the opportunity to ask interrogative questions. He made the case that Chile needs young people to ask curious, forceful questions in order to pave the way towards positive change.

In just a single weekend, Antofagasta managed to declare itself hungry for future learning opportunities. It also established itself as a strong competitor against other international cities renowned for hosting world-class science festivals of this kind, including Edinburgh, New York and Bergamo, but Antofagasta isn’t the only city in Chile to embrace novel ideas in alternative education and culture.

Puerto de Ideas ran one of its first science festivals in Valparaíso and off the back of its success decided to take the idea further north to Antofagasta. Iquique has been a regular face on the independent film scene for a number of years, hosting its International Festival of Independent Cinema with subsidised funding from Chile’s Regional Government, Tarapacá, and the Theatre and Science Festival for Schools ran for its sixth season in Concepción in November 2013.

Excitement gathers from just considering what the likes of Puerto de Ideas might be inspired to develop next.