Young Researchers Shaping the World of Tomorrow

Their activities include halting the decline of bees, extracting water from pharmaceutical waste materials, and campaigning for sustainable fashion. As part of the "Our Common Future" program, high school students are working on real-life research projects connected with sustainability. At the first-ever youth congress, they were given fresh motivation from the likes of former astronaut Thomas Reiter.

Marina Kunert | September 2017
Photo: Rupert Warren

Responsible for Their Own Research

"Drawing up a questionnaire sounds easy, but when you actually start doing it yourself, it’s pretty difficult. There are so many things to consider!" explains Lena from Innsbruck. Lena and her fellow students explored the question of whether climate protection projects involving young people help change their families’ attitudes. From the overarching topic of climate protection through to day-to-day family life, Our Common Future allows students to search for scientific answers to everyday questions, thus making science accessible. "It was exciting to see how scientists work," says Lena.

Just like real scientists, the students are also responsible if things don’t go to plan right away. When a team of students from Leipzig was unveiling its self-sufficiently powered bicycle measurement system at the Our Common Future youth congress, the display only showed an orange light instead of any measurements. "That’s bad, right?" asked team member Florian. "No, a red light is bad," replied Antonella. Together, the students got the system up and running without any help from their teachers.

A Lasting Impression

"It’s interesting to find out about things that haven’t been researched before. You then discover things yourself and know how they work," says Kevin from Fürth. He and his peers are looking into how resources can be used more efficiently. Their everyday example for this big scientific question: gold in smartphones.

"As a result of the project, many of my fellow students and I now think more carefully about whether it makes sense to buy a new smartphone or at least consider whether we should recycle our old ones rather than just leaving them in a drawer," says team member Mira. She then begins to explain what the problem is and where the gold comes from in the first place. It’s a subject that is close to her heart.

From the Arctic to Outer Space

Alongside the opportunity to share ideas on their projects, the youngsters also gained unique insights into the world of science at the congress. They phoned the Arctic research base AWIPEV in Spitsbergen, explored the Polarstern research vessel, and visited the Klimahaus museum in Bremerhaven, where they met former astronaut Thomas Reiter, who told them about his work and the topic of space exploration.