Science of serendipity

November 2nd, 2014

Visitors to Nottingham Castle enjoyed a personalised tour thanks to research at the University into interactive technology and serendipity — happy accidents.

The technology is being developed by researchers at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute in partnership with other UK universities to look at the role of serendipity in scientific breakthroughs.

The project, SerenA — Chance Encounters in the Space of Ideas, a RCUK-funded project aiming to show how information can be collected and shared to enhance cultural experiences, was showcased as part of a national festival highlighting how research in the social sciences is helping to improve lives and shape society for the better.

Dr Genovefa Kefalidou, a Research Fellow at the Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute, who works on the SerenA project, said: “Serendipity — commonly perceived as a ‘happy accident’ or an ‘unexpected event’ — has often played an important role in scientific discovery. SerenA aims to facilitate serendipity by through connection-making via information-sharing and interactive technology in order to encourage discovery, creativity and innovation.”

For castle visitors, that meant registering and logging information such as personal interests and occupation. They were then handed tailored suggestions to points of interest in the castle’s exhibits.

Dr Kefalidou said: “Hopefully, the event at Nottingham Castle provided the opportunity for visitors to reflect upon their existing knowledge, to ‘stumble’ across new information and generate new connections and ideas based on self-reflection and prior experiences.”

The free public event was one of a number of Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Festival of Social Science events hosted by the University to highlight the work of its researchers.

A film, Today is Monday, which was shot over 24 hours in the Medical and Mental Health Unit at the Queen’s Medical Centre, was shown at Broadway Cinema. The ward was set up by researchers to examine how the care of elderly people with dementia can be improved in hospitals.

Another festival event, Four Faces of Childhood Today, featured speakers at Nottingham Contemporary from the University’s Children and Childhood Network.

Dr Paula Gurteen, Social Sciences Research Development Manager at the Centre for Advanced Studies, who coordinated the University-hosted events, said: “The festival celebrates the very best in social science research taking place here in Nottingham and across Britain. By holding these exciting and creative events the University hopes to show how social science research is influencing our social, economic and political lives.”

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