I am sure you have all become well acquainted with the Croats in your ICPS experience so far. They are the friendly and loud part of the ICPS parties, they migrate to the host countries in larger numbers with each passing year, they have brought to you student lectures ranging from the physical explanations of curve balls to the summaries of their published research papers, as well as encouraged the development of your experimental instincts with suspicious food and drinks at the National parties. And now they would like to invite you to visit them on their home ground.
This year, NC Croatia is putting forward a bid for the position of host of the ICPS 2015 at the Annual General Meeting of the IAPS. The first Croatian ICPS was held in 2000 in Zadar, and we had decided to call it a test run. We may come from a small country, but the students who had found their way to the ICPS 2009 in Split would certainly assure you that we are capable of making the ICPS big. It lasted for nine days and it was the first ICPS to accept the large number of participants we are accustomed to seeing these past years, as well as cause an international incident (to the best of our knowledge). We believe it is time to up the stakes by inviting you to our capital, Zagreb.
Croatia is the banana (shaped) republic located at the border of Central Europe and the Balkans, that takes pride in its beautiful geographical diversities, ranging from the warm Adriatic sea with thousands of islands, the rich plains of Slavonia, the karstified Dinaric Alps, and the hilly region of Hrvatsko Zagorje, reminiscent of the Shire in both its geographical features and the characteristic behaviour of its inhabitants, next to which Zagreb is situated. You can also find many national parks, with more than a thousand endemic forms of life. But nature isn’t the only thing to observe. More than two millennia of human activity on Croatian soil have left a plethora of architectural monuments dating from as early as ancient Greece to the modern day. Historically a region of conflict, and finally claiming its independence from Yugoslavia about 20 years ago, Croatia has celebrated entering the European Union in July 2013.
There are several hundred companies and institutions pursuing scientific research and development of technology in Croatia, and their areas of work differ greatly even looking at only physics related fields. Most of the profits of Croatian technological companies come from the export of their products, which range from nuts and bolts to machine guns. The scientific institutes have highly developed friendly relations with other institutes around the world, and the work coming out of those collaborations tends to be of high standard. The number and quality of Croatian scientific centres is constantly growing, with new, specialised laboratories being founded every year.
The physics students’ community is small, but quite lively - there are several hundred university level physics students, with most studying at the University of Zagreb and the University of Split, the two most populated cities in the country, geographically separated, but united under the NC Croatia. In Split, there is the Student Section of the Physical Society Split, well known for the lectures, public demonstrations of interesting experiments and “astroparties” they organise each year for the Split Festival of Science, and in Zagreb there is the Student Section of the Croatian Physical Society, with its popular project Fizika ekspres (Physics Express), through which motivated students present the explosively entertaining part of physics to schoolchildren.
The Department of Physics in Zagreb has permitted the use of one of their office rooms to the students of the department - some years ago it was furnished and decorated by the friendly Club of Mathematics Students GAUSS, and it is now a communal property, watched over by the Student Section of the Croatian Physical Society and the Association of Students of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (PRIMUS). It is divided into a leisure room with couches, a modest sound system, a refrigerator, a microwave, several chess sets, a table tennis set, a projector and a closet full of textbooks and notebooks of graduated students - everything a student needs as motivation to skip classes, and a study room with a blackboard, a whiteboard, a pinboard, desks and several computers - all donations from multiple sources. The Student Section boasts the first wireless internet system in the building accessible to students, and a server system, STUDNet, maintained by a student administrator group. The friendly relation the Student Section has with PRIMUS is potentiated by the fact that all the members of its Executive Committee study physics. The dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics is a physicist, as well as the rector of the University of Zagreb. Who wouldn’t want physicists in charge of everything?
There are different events organised throughout the academic year - the Freshman party, the Open Air, an event held in front of the Faculty, with barbecue, live music played by bands of students and tournaments in disciplines like shot put with a spherical chicken and arm wrestling for women, informal lectures on their scientific work are given to the students by the employees of the Department of Physics on a weekly basis, and with snacks donated by the Department. There are movie projections, visits to laboratories and organised discussions on currently popular topics related to science that take place every few weeks, a yearly Christmas party including singing and dancing by both the students and the professors, as well as post-exam mental-health-care board game afternoons.
Croatian physics students are very active on the front of popularisation of science, with some highly successful projects.
The project Physics Express was founded by the Student Section of the Croatian Physical Society during the World Year of Physics in 2005, with its main goal being the promotion of physics and science among schoolchildren and in society in general. The primary activities of Physics Express consist of visiting elementary and high schools with a set of experiments, presenting scientific inquiries on everyday phenomena, all through interesting lectures and audio-visual effects. Some experiments included in Physics Express’ presentations are experiments with liquid nitrogen, a Rubens’ tube, experiments with vacuum and microwaves, a Tesla coil and others. It is a students’ project, with little to no intervention from the side of the Croatian Physical Society and even with the race for outside funding, it is the perfect grounds where future scientists and physics teachers can practice their communication skills and performance in front of an audience. In addition to visiting schools, Physics Express has taken part at events such as the Zagreb Festival of Science, the Science Picnic, the Open Days at CERN, the EPF Conference on Show Physics, at various events of scientific institutes in Croatia, the Summer School of Science, and others.
Another notable project is the Summer Science Factory (SSF). The SSF is an educational programme for youth from 9 to 18 years old, founded by a former student, and now a graduated physics teacher. It is based on one week long workshops over the summer in which the participants work on small scale scientific projects. University students work as mentors - they formulate the problems and activities, and lead a group of participants. Physics students mostly work as mentors, with a great number of them in the organization team of the SSF, and with workshops ranging from the experimental exploration of the physics found in cartoons, for younger children, to the practical construction of electric guitars, Tesla coils, as well as solar and mice-powered energy sources. The project has recently been given the Google RISE award.
The physics students of the University of Split have recently visited an elementary school in a small town near Split, where they held 2-hour workshops for the children - in one they provided them with the tools necessary to make a battery using a lemon and thereby learn the basics of electricity and acidity, while in another they crafted an up to scale model of the Solar system. The children who participated in the project have shown amazing interest and deduction skills, especially considering that they had never before had that kind of access to science, which is one of the main reasons why Croatian physics students continue to work hard in an effort to excite both children and adults about all the different things physics can and can’t show us about the world we live in, and to engrain the essence of scientific curiosity in their minds, in fun and inventive ways. That, and because it’s cool.
In the name of all of the Croatian physics students and the NC Croatia, we hope that you will extend us the privilege of hosting the ICPS 2015 in Zagreb.