EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF), the scientific highlight of Leiden2022

approach gave
birth to a new

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Robbert Dijkgraaf

Minister van OCW

'Why do we do science? To advance society, to enhance our knowledge. But we have to share it with society.'

Header picture: Opening European Talent Fair at ESOF2022 on stage in the Pieterskerk, next to the exhibition floor

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LEIDEN – Something unique happened during Leiden European City of Science 2022. When EuroScience awarded the upcoming 10th edition of the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) to Leiden in 2017, the Dutch city turned the tables. Instead of hosting a scientific conference surrounded by public activities, Leiden presented an extensive, year-round science festival with ESOF as a scientific pinnacle. This bold move illustrates the innovative power of Leiden2022.

Taking place every two years, the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) is the largest transdisciplinary science conference in Europe. ESOF was conceptualised by EuroScience, a membership-based non-profit association based in Strasbourg. It aims to foster open debate about science and create networks in research and innovation. From the 13th to the 16th of July, Leiden hosted the tenth edition of ESOF2022.

Scientific highlights

Everything seemed to come together during the three-day event. With more than 120 sessions, 500 speakers, and participants from 87 countries, ESOF2022 proved very interesting. More than 3,000 delegates participated in the 2022 edition, of which 58% were women with an average age of 42. The theme 'Crossing Borders. Engaged Science, Resilient Societies' fit perfectly with Leiden2022's objective to connect science and society. The program was full of interesting knowledge sessions but also many special scientific gifts. For example, the conference opened with the presentation of the first photos taken by the James Webb Space

Telescope — a project in which Prof. Ewine van Dishoeck, a member of the science council of ESOF2022, has been personally involved for decades. Coincidentally, the extremely rare flowering of the giant penis plant in Leiden's Hortus Botanicus also occurred during the three-day event.

Was this pure chance? Perhaps. It fits in with Leiden's signature as an international city of science. And it added even more magic to the successful conference, which was already alive and buzzing since it could take place in person again for the first time since the pandemic.

EuroScience Open Forum

Since the first edition of ESOF in Stockholm in 2004, EuroScience has taken the initiative to bring international scientists, policymakers, and journalists together in a different European city every two years. Here, they are invited to participate in an intensive, interdisciplinary, and intersectional debate on scientific culture, scientific research, and innovation for and with society. The Leiden edition of ESOF was led by the champions Prof. Dr Corinne Hofman (former dean of the Faculty of Archaeology) and Prof. Dr Ferry Breedveld (rheumatologist and former chair of the Leiden University Medical Center Executive Board). They were supported by a Science Council consisting of deans, professors, and lecturers from Leiden University, the Young Academy, the LUMC, and the Leiden University of Applied Sciences. An extensive Call for Proposals was issued via EuroScience, which resulted in hundreds of interesting, ambitious, and substantially challenging proposals being submitted. From these submissions, a choice was made. The result? The Leiden edition of ESOF ultimately focused on seven thematic tracks: Sustainable Environment, Cultural Identities and Transformation, Space for Science, Healthy Societies, Freedom and Responsibility of Science, Science and Business, and Sustainable Academic Careers.

The European Science in the City Festival, for anyone with a curious mind, next to the Pieterskerk. Photo credits:
Building bridges

“A multidisciplinary conference naturally fits well with Leiden, where the university has a rich tradition in the alpha, beta, and gamma aspects of science,” says Corinne Hofman. “With this programme, we not only wanted to build bridges between different scientific disciplines but also between different countries and those from varying backgrounds. Even though EuroScience is a European organisation, we’ve also built-in space for knowledge from other parts of the world.” For example, the Leiden edition was the first to start the World Programme. Through this, scientific exchanges took place with other parts of the world via online conference rooms adjusted to the different time zones. Topics such as 'Living in a World with Pandemics' and 'Sustainable Cities' affect everyone, Ferry Breedveld points out. “An international multidisciplinary event like this is very interesting because you can learn from each other. Many scientists remain stuck in their own discipline, but during ESOF, it was once again emphasised that we can only tackle the major challenges of our time by working together. I found that very inspiring.”

The EuroScience Open Forum is a place where academics, students, policymakers, science communicators, science journalists, and those with curious minds can come together. It’s for those who are not satisfied with the limitations of their own field, who strive for interdisciplinary collaboration, who are ready to embark on scientific adventures, and who are curious about the world of tomorrow. In Leiden, it was exactly these people who gathered on the lively exhibition floor of the monumental Leiden Pieterskerk. Various international partners and stakeholders presented themselves here, including the European Commission. At the same time, poster sessions and public lectures took place. Even a daily talk show, ESOF Studio, was recorded in the choir of the church — a novelty that proved to be a success.

Spoken word artist-in-residence Sharon Harman perfoms live at the ESOF2022 Opening Ceremony.
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Hybrid platform

During the event, bridges were built not only between different scientific disciplines and backgrounds but also between the offline and online spheres. Following the pandemic, the organisation approached the conference differently than in previous cities such as Manchester, Barcelona, and Toulouse. Everyone could visit the conference remotely via a virtual platform. And that went beyond just logging in via a Zoom meeting, explains congress manager Wendy Frigge. “We really did our best to connect online and on-site. The platform was designed in such a way that visitors could visit the conference locations virtually. If they then clicked on a certain room, it was as if they were really present at the event.” In addition, for the first time in the history of ESOF, a local hub was created. This was done by having part of the conference take place live and online in the Polish city of Katowice. Champion of #ESOF2022 Corinne Hofman observed that this also eliminated borders: “A hybrid congress can remove both geographical and ethical objections to participating in such events. You no longer necessarily have to travel to participate in scientific sessions and engage in conversation. This also opens doors that will hopefully make multidisciplinary collaboration within science much easier in the future.” On top of this, it’s also much more sustainable, which was exactly the intention.

Magnet action

The ESOF conference became a magnet for other scientific events, such as the annual Public Engagement with Research Awards of the European Research Council (ERC), the European Conference of Science Journalism (ECSJ), which took place the day before ESOF, and the very first Young Talent Fair of the European Commission. In addition, numerous receptions, presentations, and network meetings occurred at fantastic historic locations throughout Leiden's city centre. In this way, the entire city became a lively backdrop for international science: ESOF2022 celebrated collaborations with a diverse range of cultural, scientific, and societal partners and stakeholders.

But there were also plenty of activities for the general public. During the European Science in the City Festival, which took place from June 17 to July 17, visitors to Leiden’s museums could visit special exhibitions such as 'Books that Made History' in the National Museum of Antiquities or the 'More than Planet' exhibition featuring contemporary art displayed at the Leiden Observatory. During ESOF, an open-air festival was held in the public square in front of the Pieterskerk. This featured mobile exhibitions and pop-up museums, workshops, music, excursions, and exciting Citizen Science projects. Even the ESOF exhibition floor was opened to curious members of the public. In doing this, science and society were connected in all kinds of new ways during ESOF2022.

The central ESOF2022 stage at the Stadsgehoorzaal. Photo credits:
Creating a new European tradition

With its innovative approach, close collaboration with EuroScience, and the support of the European Commission, the Leiden2022 team has changed the design of ESOF in a number of important ways. It offered a shorter but hybridised programme, a lot of attention for young talent, a World Programme, a local hub in Katowice, and ESOF Studio. All of this was based on the most sustainable event organisation possible. But the biggest innovation to come out of this is how Leiden has flipped the script by making ESOF part of a year-round science festival. During the festive Closing Ceremony of ESOF2022, the European City of Science title was transferred to Katowice. We are curious how they will elaborate on the innovations of Leiden ESOF. But what is already certain is that Katowice will also organise a year-round science festival. Thus, in Leiden, a new European tradition has been born.

“With this programme, we not only wanted to build bridges between different scientific disciplines but also between different countries and those from varying backgrounds.”

Corinne Hofman, professor of Caribbean Archaeology
the Leiden Faculty of Archaeology and the KITLV

Leiden2022 European City of Science

Leiden European City of Science 2022 is a 365-day science festival packed with activities, lectures, workshops, excursions, exhibitions, and events, for anyone with a curious mind, the goal of which is to connect science and society.

For more information contact Leiden&partners at or +31 71 516 600.
Leiden2022 is an initiative of the Municipality of Leiden, Leiden University, Leiden University Medical Center and the Leiden University of Applied Sciences, supported by the European Commission and many local, national and international partners.