Aarhus University Seal / Aarhus Universitets segl

Jens Holbech receives the Research Communication Prize 2019

The Aarhus University Anniversary Foundation Research Communication Prize 2019 goes to senior consultant Jens Dybkjær Holbech, Faculty of Science and Technology

2019.09.13 | Peter F. Gammelby

Outdoor portrait photo of smiling gray-haired man in blue striped shirt.

Jens Holbech receives the Research Communication Prize as a recognition of excellence and innovation in the communication of knowledge from the university to the public. Photo: Lars Kruse, AU

Jens Holbech’s full title is ‘senior consultant for popular research communication knowledge development’. The dryness of his title notwithstanding, as the organiser of the university’s extremely popular public science lecture series, he is a well-known figure at AU and in the rest of the country.

The rest of the country? Really? Yes. And even beyond.

On the Faroe Islands, in Greenland and in northern Germany, crowds of inquiring minds of all ages gather to listen to two-hour evening lectures which are videostreamed live from the Lakeside Lecture Theatres in the University Park to 230 locations.

Thousands of ordinary citizens flock to venues such as cultural centres, movie theatres, schools, libraries and folk universities to soak up the free lectures while also socialising with members of their local community.

The lectures attract between 7,000 and 10,000 audience members on a typical evening. In fact, the lectures are so popular that most of the 45 participating cinemas screen them on their largest screens.

And many audience members state that they enjoy these evenings on an equal footing with theatre performances or films, and that they provide a cultural and social experience along with intellectual stimulation and ‘brain gymnastics’.

Natural sciences for the people

When Jens Holbech took the initiative to establish the lectures series in 2006, he was motivated by a desire to make science accessible to the general public by involving the scientists themselves in popular science communication. At the same time, the project was also aimed at bolstering the reputation and attractiveness of science, both generally and at Aarhus University.

“Our ambition with the live videostream is for all Danish-speaking people to be able to experience more challenging science than you normally encounter in the media here in Denmark within biking distance of their home. With the 230 locations, we’re approaching our goal,” Holbech explains.

 

The speakers are scientists, primarily from Aarhus University, who present their own and colleagues’ research into the natural and health sciences. An enormous amount of work goes into preparing these talks:
before each new lecture, presenters plan and prepare thoroughly in collaboration with the team behind the lectures, including finetuning their lectures by holding them for other audiences – for example, at a secondary school – to ensure that they’re intellectually challenging as well as entertaining and engaging. 

A lot of care, time and teamwork

“The scientists really devote a lot of care and time to making sure their lectures are spot on. And then they spend two or three evenings of their own free time on giving the lecture. They put an enormous amount of work into communication at a level that gives everyone new knowledge and often a good laugh,” Holbech says.

 

And he adds:

“All of this is only possible thanks to the unbelievable level of support from researchers, students and administrative and technical staff at AU.”

The nomination for the prize states:

“Without a doubt, the success of the lectures can be attributed to Jens Holbech, who has developed and continues to develop the concept with a huge amount of enthusiasm, diligence, energy and enterprise. As a result of Jens Holbech’s friendly insistence on optimising the speaker's performance and his infallible eye for quality, the quality of the lectures is always high, both with regard to scientific content and communicative form.”

Public / media, Staff