Research – a crucial issue

They are passionate about getting more people to understand the point of research. And one way of doing that is to make science accessible, according to robot scientist Danica Kragic and Anna Sjöström Douagi, programme director of the Nobel Center.

Anna_Danica_850Text: Emelie Molinder
Photo: Samuel Unéus

We meet among robots and sophisticated computers in Danica Kragic’s office at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm (KTH). Kragic immediately makes clear to the photographer that she will not have her photo taken with a small robot. It’s either with one of the larger, awe-inspiring pieces or none at all. She is tired of being portrayed as cute. “I meet reporters and photographers several times a week and have decided to refuse to be photographed with a doll-like robot in my lap. It sends all the wrong signals,” she says.

It is clear that this is not a playground. This is a place for science at a high level, and one day these robots may have nicked our jobs.

Danica Kragic, a computer science professor, works with robotics research. She and Anna Sjöström Douagi, who has a background in immunobiology and is now programme director of the Nobel Center, know each other.

They are both passionate about making science and research available to more people. “It is important for everyone to understand the social challenges we face. With digitisation and robotics in place, many of the jobs that exist today will be gone in 20 years. We all need to contribute with ideas on how to face new times.

I believe that everyone needs to be a bit of a scientist to keep up with in the future,” Kragic says. Anna Sjöström Douagi agrees. “There has been a gap between researchers and everyone else for a long time. People have just thought, ‘That’s not for us.’ It is important to eliminate the knowledge gap and to demonstrate that research really concerns everyone,” she says.

What’s needed to succeed is a place where the public and scientists can meet and inspire each other. A forum where scientific discussions can happen on all levels. “We need an independent platform where we can reflect on how to contribute to the greatest benefit to mankind, together. A place where neither politics nor  other interests are in control,” Douagi says.

The Nobel Center will be just like that. A building where children, students and a curious public can meet scientists, writers and peacemakers. To inspire young people to pursue a career in research is high on the agenda for Anna Sjöström Douagi and Danica Kragic, and Douagi wants to turn scientists into role models. “It would be a dream to welcome a school class, for example, to the Nobel Center with Danica. I want everyone to understand the point of research. Understand that anyone can be a Danica, who challenges the stereotype of what a scientist looks and acts
like,” she says.

They both want to change the image of scientists and the research community. ”Many believe that if you work in research, you sit on your own in a room and think until you come up with something. We want to convey the message that you work with others. That it is both sociable and fun,” Kragic says.

“The research community is incredibly sociable. A career in research often means opportunities to travel all over the world. Gender or political affiliation don’t matter – a good idea is a good idea wherever you go.

As a scientist, you leave tracks everywhere. Your ideas and thoughts continue to grow; it’s great. Research is in many ways a big peace project. You would never want to bomb your collaborators,” Douagi says. Most of us would probably agree that there is a need for a place where the public can meet representatives from the world of science. Why does it have to be in the heart of Stockholm? ”To build the Nobel Center in central Stockholm is one way of showing how important these issues are.

One should not underestimate accessibility and proximity. You should be able to go there and come up with an idea in time for your morning coffee, and decision makers should be able to pop across during their lunch hour,” Douagi says.

Danica Kragic is thinking along the same lines. “You shouldn’t have to have a reason to go there. You just go there. I’m envisaging people walking around with coat on, coffee in hand. In the same way that you window shop for inspiration, you should be able to go there and window shop for knowledge.”

What do you most look forward to with the Nobel Center?

Danica: The wow factor. That it becomes a living museum, where you can get access to, and contribute with, new ideas. A place where knowledge isn’t difficult to grasp. A place which makes you happy.

Anna: That the Nobel Center contributes to new ideas and conversations. That it becomes a forum that doesn’t exist today. A place which promotes development and takes science into the future.