Posteado por: boronat | mayo 18, 2009

Open Day at the JRC

Last saturday the JRC opened its doors for more than 8.000 visitors, around one third of them children. People from around the area came to the Ispra site to know a little bit about the Research Centre, and what’s going on in it. More than 200 volunteers from the JRC staff were dressed in European blue to welcome them there and to show them our work.

It’s often easy in such a big place not to know what your neighbour in the corridor is working on. There are several activities focused only on showing your colleagues what you’re doing, and although this Open Day is not one of them, it serves also this purpose. I volunteered to help my unit, and what we set up to show the visitors is what follows.

My Unit’s main goals include managing crisis and securing the globe. We built a “mini-world”, and prepared a game for the children to go around it. They had to complete a task in each part of it, getting a diploma when they finished them all.

Searching for diamonds

One of the stages was a sand pit where several diamonds were hidden, their work was to find one of them using the sieves provided. What we do related with this activity is monitoring the diamond production in the world in support of the Kimberley process (a worlwide effort to reduce trade with diamonds from areas in conflict). By analyzing satellite images of diamond mines we can calculate how many diamonds a country is producing. A diamond mine is pretty much as shown in the movie “Blood Diamond”, a small lake were miners go in to search. Depending on the colour of the water and the vegetation around the lake, we can learn if the mine is in use, has just been abandoned or started, or if it is not in use since a long time.
Planting poppies

Another activity consisted on making a poppie using a green sticker, red paper, and tape. Children had to plant a poppie made by themselves in the field, which was growing steadily during the day. What we do in this topic is again monitoring satellite imagery. Depending on the color of the images of the crops taken in Afghanistan, it’s possible to estimate the production of opium there.


Measuring the Eiffel Tower

During the French Presidency of the EU, French workers at the JRC built a small replica of the Eiffel Tower, and put it in the site. What children had to do was to measure its height. To do that, they could use the shadow of the tower, and also a special gadget. A device with a laser that tells you the distance from where you point and the angles you move it in, allowing then to know the size of something from a great distance. This gadget was used in the mission that the JRC sent to L’Aquila after the earthquake to make a damage assesment.

The mini-village

In our mini-world there was a city in which houses were built using cardboard boxes. The architects and builders of the village had been the children from the European School. In the city there were several areas: industrial, residential, slums, and a refugee camp. Children in this activity were deciding which of them were more vulnerable to disasters. During the day, we simulated a couple of disasters there (houses dissapeared because they were auctioned to collect money to rebuild a school in L’Aquila, or were taken down by the wind). What we do in this cases is to compare the aerial images in our databases with the imagery collected after the disaster, trying to evaluate the damage.
The refugee tent

A lot of the work of a Unit that stands to the label “Global Security” is done in cooperation with worldwide agencies as the UNHCR. They provided us with a lightweight (65kg) refugee tent, one of the real ones, and with two people that are part of the staff that goes into the field. Children learned there the main idea about a refugee: it’s someone who has left everything behind because of a war or another kind of conflict, a person who has nothing and has to live in the middle of nowhere with the help from the international organizations. Among other tasks, UN staff have to go there and try to make a census of the refugees to help the future family reagrupation, and they have to set up the food distribution (in cooperation with the World Food Programme). The refugee tent carried the stuff that is given to each refugee family (from 5 to 10 people usually): the tent, a blanket, a solar torch, a cooking set, a mosquito net, a bucket. This basic material is only given once, as it’s supposed to last. The UN has two stockpiles, placed beside airports, summing up to half a million basic packs, and it’s ready to deploy them anywhere in the world in under 72 hours.

The JRC work related to refugee camps has again to do with measurements using satellite images. The calculation of how many people might be in a refugee camp is given then to the international organizations.
The situation centre

In every disaster, a situation centre has to be set up on the field. In here, all the information is gathered and processed. From there, the children could see a modelism helicopter flying, with a camera attached to it. It went up the mini-world, taking pictures of the poppy fields, the diamond mines, and the city, acquiring images and video. In reality it’s sometimes also done with non-tripulated devices. The helicopter downloaded the images to the computers in the situation centre, and then they were shown to the public in big screens.
Some other fields of work (like my computer simulation of epidemics) were not included here. Maybe for the next open day we can teach the children what a pandemic is, or why it’s good to shut down the schools when it happens (sure they will pay attention!). But in general what the mini-world showed last Saturday was the work of my around 80 colleagues in the Unit: applied science for crisis management and global security.


Update June 26th: the video!



  1. What an interesting job!!I have never thought about this but it is very intelligent calculate the effects of disasters using a satellite map, as well to know if a mine is still working and so on!!
    Nice post Rafa..always bright

  2. Rafa! Tienes blog! y en wordpress! y yo sin saberlo! cuánto podría aprender de ti, aunque parece que lo tienes un poquillo abandonado,no? ninguna intención de retomarlo? un beso, patricia.

  3. Hola Rafa!

    ayer buscando información sobre Ispra, sus JRCtrabajadores y gentes encontré tu blog.

    El caso es que yo mañana voy para ahí, a una entrevista en el IES, para local system administrator. Cualquier sabio consejo es bienvenido.

    Un saludo,



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