20th Frankfurt Kinder-Uni: All about stardust, AI and talking hands

Schools in Hesse have hardly started again after the long summer break, and already the Frankfurt Kinder-Uni is about to begin. The 20th edition featuring a series of lectures for inquisitive children will take place from October 4 to 6. All morning lectures have already been booked by registered school classes, but starting at 4 p.m. in the afternoons, attendance is open to all without registration, with exciting topics awaiting the Kinder-Uni students.

It’s going to be colorful and lively again on Goethe University Frankfurt’s Westend Campus: from October 4 to 6, the university is once again opening its doors to children aged 8 to 12 from all different school types, with the aim of making them curious about science and giving them a first impression of university life. The three events put together by the Kinder-Uni organizing team this year met with great interest: The morning lectures for school classes are completely booked out. Starting at 4 p.m. in the afternoons, however, the lecture hall is open to all inquisitive children and their adult companions, even without prior registration. Frankfurt mayor Mike Josef is among those who have signed up for Thursday’s lectures on AI, and Friday’s lecture on “The Talking Hands” will be simultaneously translated by sign language interpreters.

The program

Kicking off the 20th Frankfurt Kinder-Uni on Wednesday, October 4, will be physicist Prof. Camilla Juul Hansen, who will be taking the students into the depths of the universe. “What are stars made of? What starlight reveals about gold and silver in the universe,” is the title of her lecture. A starry sky is not only beautiful to look at from a distance; by taking a much closer look, Hansen is able to see light that is invisible to the naked eye. In her lecture, she explains to the children how telescope images can be used to see what stars are made of – and how elements like gold and silver were formed.

Artificial intelligence will stand at the forefront of Prof. Andreas Dengel’s lecture, held on Thursday, October 5, which explores the question: “Can machines think? How artificial intelligences become smart and why they have no feelings.” Even the youngest members of society are aware that this topic plays a role in more and more areas of life: as such, machines can write texts or paint pictures in the manner of the Old Masters. How exactly does this work? Computer scientist Dengel explains in a child-friendly and vivid manner how AI learns, what it can do – and what it will never be able to understand. Joining him in the afternoon will be Frankfurt city mayor Mike Josef, who will be making his inaugural visit, so to speak, to the Kinder-Uni.

On Friday, October 6, students will explore a topic from the field of linguistics. As part of a lecture titled “The Talking Hands. On the difference between words, signs and gestures”, Prof. Cornelia Ebert (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Prof. Markus Steinbach (University of Göttingen) will explain how important our hands and face are as a means of communication. We all use facial expressions and gestures to make things clear, emphasize or explain, and these gestures are mostly understood by everyone. That is not the case for sign languages used by deaf people, which – like any other language – you first have to learn. Children will learn all about the similarities and differences between gestures and signs on the third day of this year’s Kinder-Uni. The lecture will be simultaneously translated into sign language.

After each morning lecture, the students can enjoy lunch at the dining hall, one of the Student Union’s cafeterias or in the “Sturm und Drang” café-bistro located on the first floor of the lecture hall building – just like the “real” students do during term. Children who present their “student ID” at the Casino-Anbau Dining Hall will receive a discounted children’s menu for €3.50.

Even though the morning lectures are already fully booked, starting at 4 p.m. on each of the three days, children are invited to come to Westend Campus individually or in groups, but always with an accompanying adult, to experience an exciting Kinder-Uni lecture. Larger groups are advised to email in advance, so that contiguous seating can be reserved where possible.

The Experiminta Museum is also on board again this year, and exciting experiments await the children in the foyer of the auditorium building. In addition, teams from the fields of psychology and pedagogy will be on hand in the afternoons to provide information about their current research.

As every year, there will be a quiz for each lecture. Those who have marked the correct answers stand to receive great book prizes, Kinder-Uni shirts and other great prizes. The quiz questions – and later, the correct answers, too – are available on the Kinder-Uni homepage (www.kinderuni.uni-frankfurt.de – in German).

“It’s always a wonderful occasion to have hundreds of enthusiastic and curious children flock to campus,” says Goethe University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff. “Seeing so many children in a lecture hall, listening spellbound and asking smart questions thrills me time and again. This year’s program once again is very multifaceted, and ranges from stardust and artificial intelligence to the question of what messages I send with facial expressions and gestures. There is definitely something for everyone. The doors of Goethe University Frankfurt are wide open to all children, because knowledge imparted in a playful manner is fun and holds a lot of surprises in store!”

Dr. Marschner Stiftung has been providing financial support to the Frankfurt Kinder-Uni since 2015. “For us, the Frankfurt Kinder-Uni is a valuable format,” says foundation chairman Peter Gatzemeier: “The event brings children from very different social backgrounds together at the university at an early age, allowing them to experience an exciting excursion to campus and see real scientists in action – a memorable experience for many. We are very pleased that our financial support helped make this year’s Kinder-Uni possible.”

Once again, this year’s Kinder-Uni media partner is Frankfurter Rundschau, which will report daily on the events and also offers a prize contest.

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