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President of the Republic at the EuPhO 2017 in TUT Mektory

President of the Republic at the EuPhO 2017 in TUT Mektory © Rene Riisalu

24.05.2017

Dear participants of the First European Physics Olympiad!

Whoever wins – you are all winners! Because you are here, because you are interested in the subject which reaches both inwards – into the depth of cells – and outwards – the universe. The span of physics is just amazing, understanding life as only scientists can is awesome and I believe it also creates enormous amount of respect into the complexity of our world as we know it.

Meeting likeminded people is important, too. I hope this competition serves as a get together for you as well.

I hope I see here a couple of future Nobelists, including the one who will resolve the mystery of the dark matter. The working group which came up with the concept of dark matter worked here, in Estonia, in the Observatory of Tartu, led by academician Jaan Einasto. Right now, in the same observatory, the students of Tartu University are working on the second Estonian satellite, in order to complete it next year when we celebrate the first centennial of Estonian independence.

All Estonians can support that project financially, if they so wish, making this particular bit of applied physics publicly owned. Simple people, not at all scientists, have paid into this project 20 000 euros. This shows how modern crowdfunding can support science, but even more – support scientific understanding of our world. We know that the overpowering supply of all kinds of media makes life difficult for those who are not able to apply strictly rational thinking. They may be easily carried away by all kinds of snake oil promises. Nothing but science can help to keep cool head. Nothing but seeking truth, based on facts, tests, analysis, applying scientific and critical mind, can protect our societies in this kind of environment.

Physics is a powerful science. It creates the protective kind of mind-set – protection against false news and faulty promises. And it also creates new opportunities to live happily ever after on this planet. Similarly to the times of Albert Einstein, we know, that the problem of sustainability of human life lies in the human nature, not the science we create. Einstein said: "The release of atom power has changed everything except our way of thinking...the solution to this problem lies in the heart of mankind."

Physics can also help to remedy the fault lines of human nature, apparently. You listened to a lecture by Mait Müntel, PhD in physics, who has applied statistical methods in order to help us to learn new languages. His creation, Lingvist, makes the use of science in order to better human mind, enhancing our natural capacities to learn. We can save time and effort by learning languages quicker and more effectively.

Of course there is no lack of examples how physics has rearranged the life of humankind. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Science is a powerful weapon, both in the hands of good and evil. Science is neutral by definition, hence to distinguish good and evil remains something we can only define by applying our human mind, the one physics has helped to shape, but can never quite explain – even if we knew all biophysics and biochemistry relating to it. That is what Einstein was referring to as limitation to scientific activity.

Yet more science, more understanding of how our planet works, how climate change happens and what it would entail, coupled with development of greener technologies, will make us all better off. Some people will never accept they need to go out of their comfortable way to make life on our planet sustainable, hence we need to make it comfortable to save the planet. That is the challenge for upcoming generation of physicists and other scientists, and I know you will manage. I put my trust in you here and in other young scientific minds.

Finally, I would like to thank the Youth Academy of University of Tartu and Professor Jaan Kalda from Tallinn University of Technology, who has been the main initiator of this European Olympiad. Professor Kalda is only one of many teachers and professors all over Europe who brings new talent to science and physics every day everywhere in Europe. Let me extend my gratitude to all of you. Nowadays when one can make living in thousands of ways, bringing young talent to science is no easy task, but you are obviously succeeding!

As I said, all of you are already winners, but special congratulations to those who will soon know they have won! You are the first of a long line of European champions in physics to come!