On 27 June and 06-08 August 2020, for the first time in history, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research took part in the virtual Festival of Science and Technology GEEK PICNIC. The event was held for the 10th time, but this year – in a completely new format.

Every year, Geek Picnic welcomes scientific organisations, researchers and science communicators, founders of successful high-tech projects, bloggers, and well-known science journalists, who draw big audiences and, within a few days, introduce the listeners to the latest discoveries and achievements made in the field of science and technology. This year, all events have to be held online – a completely alien space for people who aspired to see and hear those at the forefront of science. The main theme of the 10th Festival in 2020 is "Multiverse".

The online format of the exhibition means that the Internet platform or, as they call it now, virtual stand has to be going day and night to demonstrate the projects, as well as science and technology news. The Festival was held in two stages, in June and August. JINR specialists gave the audience an opportunity to learn about the current projects and experiments implemented at the Institute from the primary source. The total number of viewers came up to about 15,000 people.

During the Festival, viewers – visitors of the JINR virtual stand – were able to learn more about a number of projects that, in one way or another, open the veil of secrets of the Universe. For example, a mysterious and elusive ghost particle – neutrino, a lecture on which was delivered by DLNP Deputy Director Dmitry Naumov. Anastasia Golubtsova, a senior researcher at the JINR Laboratory of Theoretical Physics, spoke about the progress in solving the information paradox associated with the loss of information in black holes. While doing a virtual tour of the LRB Radiation Physiology Sector together with one of its researchers Yuri Severyukhin, the audience found out what kind of experiments scientists use to study the effect of space radiation on living organisms. The virtual stand also streamed a master class by Dmitry Ponkin, a senior engineer at VBLHEP. During the master class, the viewers got acquainted with the developments in the field of electronics and were shown how electronic boards installed at modern accelerators and colliders actually work.

The second stage of the Festival was devoted to the topic of human space exploration. As a teaser to the three-day programme, Ivan Gordeev, a researcher at the JINR Laboratory of Radiation Biology, delivered a lecture on the types of space radiation and calculations of the radiation field inside an interplanetary spacecraft during the Earth-Mars travel. A talk on the nuclear physics devices on board spacecraft searching for water and developed by the Institute for Space Research, with the participation of Frank Laboratory of Neutron Physics, was given by FLNP Director Valery Shvetsov. From the exploration of space and other planets, the storyline shifted to the topic of studying space objects that come to Earth. Moreover, in his lecture "Astrobiological Study of Meteorites and the Oldest Terrestrial Rocks", Anton Ryumin, a junior researcher at LRB, touched upon the origin of life and modern ideas about life on the Early Earth. Afterwards, the listeners learned more about the hypothesis of the Universe evolution and what was there before the Big Bang from Plamen Fiziev, the leading researcher of the JINR Laboratory of Theoretical Physics. He gave a lecture "Universe with Variable Space Dimension".

And, finally, there was a whole block of video excursions devoted to the NICA mega-science project. First of all, the visitors had a virtual tour of the heavy ion collider under construction guided by Nikita Sidorov, a software engineer at VBLHEP. In his lecture “NICA Collider Today”, Nikita visualised what a collider is, what parts it consists of, and what it is needed for. The video review also highlighted the fundamental and applied problems that are planned to be solved using this complex. Further on, the guests moved on to a video tour of the experimental hall of VBLHEP, where superconducting magnets for the NICA collider are produced. A senior engineer Alexander Tikhomirov guided the excursion. A signature moment marking the end of the virtual exhibition was the film "NICA - Universe in the Lab", where Grigory Trubnikov, First Vice-Director of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, outlined the main goals and objectives that physicists of the 21st century are facing. He also spoke about the ambitious plans and the results that the international team of this project are expecting to achieve.

In this ever-changing world, the importance of science education and outreach is increasing day by day, especially in the context of moving into the online space, which turned out to be quite a challenge. The organisers of GEEK PICNIC ventured to transfer the event attracting thousands of participants to the virtual space. For the first time, many lecturers had to face virtual visitors. It's no secret that keeping one’s attention through the screen separating the speaker and the listener is much more difficult than doing it face-to-face. So far, no one can say how this format will affect the depth of knowledge absorbed by the younger generation, who, nowadays, are the main consumers of such popular-science products. However, we can definitely say that all listeners are eager to learn new things to use them for their further education. The JINR virtual stand has been visited by more than 150 unique users, and the total number of its work hours has exceeded 150.

Watch a short overview of the JINR stand in the videos:

1 stage of the GEEK PICNIC Online (27 June): https://youtu.be/8kGHvyJzlLk (restricted-access link)

2 stage of the GEEK PICNIC Online 2.0 (06-08 August): https://youtu.be/RTe4gcUKdWI (restricted-access link)