How’s it going with Postbus 71, the Leiden2022 hotline?
Why is the sky blue? Why are most people right-handed? Why are spiderwebs so strong? These are just some of the questions arriving at Postbus 71, a Leiden2022 project where everyone can ask their questions. Friso de Hartog, the driving force behind Postbus 71, is busy answering as many questions as possible, with the aid of researchers.
Friso has seen hundreds of questions arrive. ‘It was a bit slow to start off with, but more and more people now know where to find us. It’s really difficult to come up with a question just like that. People often stumble across something by chance.’ Despite this, Friso has discovered that it is possible to come up with questions under pressure, particularly for young people. ‘If you give teenagers a crash course in asking questions, encourage them to come up with questions and add a competitive element, you get some really good questions coming up.’
One of these questions is: Is chewing gum plastic? This question is the favourite so far on the postbus-71.nl website. You can also vote for the question you find most interesting, fun or important. Those who sent in the questions with the most votes stand to win two free tickets to Naturalis Biodiversity Center or the Noordwijk Space Expo.
Friso has noticed that young people tend to ask more creative questions than older people do. He thinks that shame plays a part. ‘The older you are, the more you tend to think you should know things. Children don’t suffer from this as much. Some great, fun and interesting questions have come in from children and adolescents.’
What’s the point of a mosquito?’ This question has buzzed around and is as irritating as the mosquito itself because there’s no easy answer.
Friso has his own favourite question: ‘What’s the point of a mosquito?’ Friso: ‘This question has buzzed around, flown by a few times and is as irritating as the mosquito itself because there’s no easy answer. But it’s a really important question. Humans are at the point of purposely eradicating mosquitoes. Should we do that? We’re not finished with each other this question and I.’
Lucien Geelhoed, developer and co-organiser of the Leiden2022 programme wants Postbus 71 to inspire curiosity in all the people of Leiden, how near or far from science they might be. Lucien: ‘On the second day of the project a question arrived from an eight-year-old girl: “Why don’t I like my mum’s food?” That was precisely the curiosity we wanted to arouse in the project.’
Friso isn’t planning on stopping once Leiden2022 has ended. ‘We’re looking for a way to make this bigger. In Belgium there’s the ikhebeenvraag.be website, for example. If this appeals to any researchers, they should definitely contact me. There are still loads of questions to answer!’
Text: Nynke Smits
Photo: Towfiqu Barbhuiya via Unsplash