Oded Rechavi. (screenshot) screenshot

Attendees’ unpublished work will be simultaneously presented live and posted on Twitter, encouraging questions and answers in real-time online as the conference takes place in Israel.

By United with Israel Staff

Molecular biologist Oded Rechavi of Tel Aviv University organized a groundbreaking conference for scientists in February, which he dubbed the “Woodstock of Biology.”

At the conference, attendees will present short talks outlining new, unpublished work, which will simultaneously be posted on Twitter using two slides.

The format is designed to encourage questions and answers in real-time online as the conference takes place.

Rechavi’s goal is to offer free-spirited exchanges between scientists, in a “fun and friendly” way that encourages scientific growth without fear of defensiveness or competitiveness. Additionally, early-career researchers will have a platform to share their ideas.

“[T]hey have an opportunity to talk about their research, as equals, next to really prominent scientists from different fields,” Rechavi said in an interview with Nature. ” I think it will help them to find positions, get connected, help them to tweet their stories and increase their visibility.”

Through “exchanges with scientists” on Twitter, the biologist realized that researchers on the social media platform are “very supportive and progressive.”

“I said to myself that it would be nice to meet these people and form a real community instead of a virtual one,” Rechavi explained. “So I tweeted that I would be happy to organize a conference for these scientists to meet in person. I woke up in the morning and I saw that there were hundreds of responses. People kept tweeting, retweeting, ‘sign me up.’ So we built a website and close to 200 people signed up.”

The goal of the conference is to “reproduce the informal, fun, real-time involvement with peers and non-specialists that you find on Twitter and make it work in a conference format.”

Rechavi believes that there is great potential in connecting people from these different worlds. “This meeting is the first time, to my knowledge, that we’re joining the two worlds, and the potential is that some of the good stuff inside the Twitter science community will penetrate the real science world and influence it,” he said according to Nature.

The idea for the conference’s “Woodstock of Biology” name came from an acquaintance of Rechavi, Shai Biran, who works at the biotech consultancy firm MacDougall in Massachusetts. “It symbolizes what the original Woodstock music festival symbolized: counterculture and freedom from social conventions, and peace and music too,” Rechavi said.

“We want it to be collaborative and non-hierarchical, without a moderator. People who are not present at the conference can also respond online with questions. We’ll have walk-up songs for each speaker, which tells us a little bit about their personalities.”

Keynote speakers at the event, which takes place a few days before an experimental biology conference in Eilat, include Dan Shechtman from the Technion-Israel’s Institute of Technology in Haifa, who won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry; Uri Alon, a systems biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel; and Piali Sengupta, neurobiologist at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.

A range of disciplines will be covered, from ecology and molecular biology to neuroscience and philosophy of science, the organizer said.

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