25/02/2015 | VOCAR PROGRAMME - PAÍS CIENCIA
“We want to encourage high school students to be scientists”
Luis Cappozzo is a CONICET marine biologist and member of País Ciencia. In his role as a science communicator, he became an actor to share his knowledge on television.
Dr. Luis Cappozzo. Photo: CONICET Photography.

Biologist Luis Cappozzo had the chance to change the lab for the TV and he did it as he is used to doing it: as an experiment. In 2013 the researcher was called to be in charge of the scientific contents of Área 23, a television miniseries produced by Tecnópolis TV, broadcasted on the TV Pública and starred by Carolina Peleritti. The story is about a female scientist, an expert at molecular biology who comes back to the country as a researcher after living abroad for ten years. Some days before shooting, the directors called Cappozzo with an unexpected proposal: to be the co-star of the miniseries. He accepted the challenge and the results were so good that the second season has the scientific contents of new cases and will be broadcasted during 2015.

Apart from his artistic streak, Cappozzo has devoted the last thirty years to science. He is the chief of the laboratory of Ecología, Comportamiento y Mamíferos Marinos del Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” at the city of Buenos Aires. He promotes scientific communications as a memeber of the “Programa de Promoción de Vocaciones Científicas (VocAr)” of the Council through “País Ciencia”, whose director is Dr. Claudio Fernández, CONICET researcher. The aim of the programme is to bring science closer to society and encourage scientific vocation through talks, participatory workshops and training for teachers.

“CONICET research and development are financed by the State and most of the scientists studied at public universities. For this reason, I think we must let people know about our work as scientists, and the importance of the area of science we study”, Cappozzo comments.

In his case, he does it for pleasure. “For him, to disseminate science is a need and something he does for vocation. I would not be able to communicate science if I was not working in a laboratory generating new scientific knowledge and training human resources experts in marine sciences. This does not mean that it always has to be like this though. Scientific journalism is necessary and complementary to all researchers who communicate science”.

MORE REASONS

Cappozzo expresses his opinion on País Ciencia: “We interact with high school students who are about to graduate soon. The idea is to motivate them by sharing our experiences and encourage them to choose scientific, technical or technological courses of studies”.

Furthermore, the researcher explains that nowadays this country needs to fill professional positions in different areas of science, technology and innovation. “Many times, due to general matters, some students finish high school without even thinking about becoming scientists because they associate it with individual, economic failure and lack of possibilities”, Cappozzo states. It is important for them to know that the scientific-technological system has strengthened. Science and technology work on diseases, epidemics, technological problems and communication issues”. He mentions one example: ARSAT satellite is one example of how to do science”.

THE BIRTH OF A BIOLOGIST

How did Cappozzo become chief of the laboratory of the Museum of Natural Sciences? As most of the biologists, when Cappozzo was a kid he loved animals. “I loved fish, plants, birds, rocks, caves, feathers, bones, mountains, streams. At a very young age, he collected feathers, bones, skulls, bugs without distinguishing them. “First, he kept them in boxes and as time went by they were full of fungus because I did not know how to preserve them properly”, the researcher recalls.

However, the turning point came seven years later when he visited the Museum of Natural Sciences of La Plata with his father. Cappozzo was astonished when he left the place. “The rooms remained etched in my memory. It was all so unforgettable that some decades later when I went to the museum for work, I had the chance to visit the comparative anatomy room I remembered how those skeletons of dolphins, whales and seals hanging from the roof had impacted him”. From that first visit to the museum, Cappozzo realized that he wanted to be biologist and work in a museum.
Years later, his father gave him a book collection about facts of science of Life Magazine. Thanks to those books he learnt crucial information such as the measurements of a moray eel, camouflage habits of the antlion, or the number of times a fly flaps its wings per second. Cappozzo – a future science communicator- learnt all that information by heart and used to recite it to his friends, his family and at school. It was his party piece. The researcher kept those books in his library as his most treasured possessions. When he grew up, he took those publications and looked at the back covers and was surprised to know that “the aim of the information provided by those texts was to share that data with friends. It was great because his objective was to deliver information out of context so that he could astonish others. Therefore, these books were paradigms of science communication in my story”.

UNEXPECTED PLACES

What does Cappozzo try to transmit to young people? “One of the things I tell them is my experience as a marine biologist and as a scientist. I always mention that at first, nothing was easy but looking back, after the decades of professional work, I have millions of amusing anecdotes related to my job and not to my social condition”, he comments. Thanks to his profession, for instance, the researcher had the chance to know inhospitable and unusual places. Cappozzo has been to the Sahara desert, where he was part of an international team that conducted a research project that belonged to the European Union. There, for three days and nights, he had to survive a sandstorm up to the selva valdiviana in Chile looking for fjords of more than 800 meters deep in the sea through the Península Valdés, in Patagonia, where he managed to touch a released Peale’s dolphin.

“The aim is to encourage teenagers to pursue their vocation, because there is nothing as unpleasant as doing something against that”, he states. Besides, he adds “there are problems everywhere, it does not matter if one is a marine biologist, astronaut or does any other job. In all professions people have to encounter different difficulties, but the best choice is to follow their vocation. In the case of science, there are several curious kids, and that is vital for future researchers”.

Cappozzo, science communicator par excellence, dared to do much more than what he thought. “Thanks to this profession I accepted the challenge to act in television series”, he commented and added “In our society, the different ways to communicate science are infinite, it all depends on willingness to do it”.

VocAr Programme aims to promote democratization of scientific knowledge to create equal opportunities to access science. Through talks, participatory workshops, researchers of all the country share their studies and findings with the community. Furthermore, it seeks to encourage scientific vocation and enthusiasm for science to guide them in the selection of their courses of studies.

Platform País Sciencia is a federal project for public communication of science that deals with the gap between science and society in an comprehensive way because it has social actors that are related to the development of scientific and educational policies, such as the CONICET, the Ministry of Education through the Secretaría de Políticas Universitarias, the Fundación Medifé, the Centro de Estímulo al Desarrollo del Conocimiento (CEDEC) del municipio de Granadero Baigorria and the Universidad Nacional de Rosario.