Interview with Nikola Karavasilev – passionate physics and astronomy teacher, “Olympic” trainer and communicator of science

Nikola Karavasilev is one ot the most passionate teachers of physics and astronomy in Bulgaria. He is one of the founders and main science teachers at the private school “Izzi Science for Kids” – the first primary school with intensive study of natural science. Nikola also teaches at the National Gymnasium of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the First Private Mathematic High School. Moreover, he trains a lot of talented students who are among the best performers at national and international competitions in astronomy, physics and astrophysics. Apart from being a teacher, Nikola is also an active communicator of science. He is a regular participant on festivals and other scientific events organized for the general public.

I interviewed him in May 2019 during the ninth edition of Sofia Science Festival, while he was trying to pay attention to me, to the bunch of students who are always around him, and to do the final check on his upcoming presentation.

Now you could enjoy this fascinating result! 🙂

1. You are one of the most active communicators of science in Bulgaria. Could you tell me what did take you along this road?

– While I was an astrophysics student at Sofia University, I constantly participated in various competitions. During such an event, organized by the Ministry of Education, I met Diana Popova from Forum Democritus. She told me about FameLab and offered me to participate in the edition in 2009. Then she introduced me to Lyubov Kostova and, together, showed me how important it is to communicate science. In that time the format Café Scientifique still existed and I became a regular presenter on it. It was a great format. We organized scientific lectures in cafes, bars, even in the mountains. In 2010 I held a lecture about the stars under the stars in National Park Vitosha. There were two big buses full of curious people, and even the cold February did not scare them.

2. You have participated in every edition of the Sofia Science Festival so far. How about this format? And how do you manage to find new exciting topics every year?

– Yes, I adore it. Many of the festival’s lecturers are finalists from FameLab (but not only). At the beginning FameLab pushes you to the festival, but then you cannot stop. For all of us – communicators of science, this activity becomes a passion. If it did not bring us so much pleasure, we could hardly continue. And the festival teaches us a lot, makes us even better communicators, and that is very important. Every year there are more and more enthusiastic people in the public, and that brings us even more satisfaction. In reference to the topics, there are always new once. Every year there is a hot topic – in 2018 it was Stephen Hawking’s death, which inspired me to hold a lecture about his work. In 2019 we celebrate 50 years of landing on the Moon, so it makes sense to talk about it.

3. Why do you think that communicating science is so important?

– People need to know that science, scientific studies exist in order to find inspiration in it. That is why, when possible, I accept every invitation from the media, I’m involved in all possible activities, in charts, I take every opportunity to show to the publics the world of science and the success of the people in it. It is people who are the future of science. If there are no scientists, that would be the end of the new discoveries. A few years ago, when I told my mother that I was going to study astrophysics in Bulgaria, she was very upset. She did not believe I would have a successful career in this area in our country. She wanted for me to go to America. In spite of that, I proved to her that things are possible here. The goal of ​​our efforts (of us the scientists) is to communicate science, to show ourselves to the society and to demonstrate to people successful examples. In this way, we stimulate parents to support their children to engage in science and to make them move in that direction. And these children are the future of science.

4. What about the science education in Bulgaria?

– The contemporary educational institutions in Bulgaria provoke the children to hate science. Schools present them science in a boring and incomprehensible way, laying particular stress on the marks. I cannot change the system, but I try to influence at least on my students. I teach in high schools, I have lectures at Muzeiko, I recently participated in the creation of the private school “Izzi science for kids”. Science must touch the hearts of people while they are still children. And this is happening more and more often. Moreover, Bulgaria is full of talented kids. Many of my students even win medals in international competitions. However, not the medals are the important thing, but the preparation for the competitions. These children learn to learn, to think, to be disciplined. And this helps them during their lives, first, at the university, later – in their profession. Many of them are already in MIT, Cambridge, Oxford.

5. How did you gather the team of lecturers for “Izzi science for kids”, did you have enough candidates? And what about the kids?

– However, in our circles of communicators of science, we know each other. So I invited some people who I know to become members of the school’s team. That’s how we gathered part of the team, but we are still looking for more lecturers. In reference to the children, we have a lot of applications. Parents are increasingly changing their point of view, they take seriously the science education and push their children towards it. In the school “Izzi science for kids” the smallest are 5-year-olds, which makes our work even more responsible. We put the fundamentals of their personality. That is why our school presents the world to them from all sides. And this includes arts, sports, literature. We are trying to create people who know the world around them in deep. That is the only way for a person to have a fulfilled life, to live it in the best way his/herself and for the whole society.

6. How do you manage to explain the complex scientific subjects to a 5-year-old child?

 – Haha, I talk to them in a way that I could understand myself. I try to present everything in the simplest way, giving illustrative examples, answering every single question. And it gives results.

7. How do you see the future of science in Bulgaria?

 – The future, as I said, are the nowadays children. Today (on the festival, 09.05.2019) here is an already grown kid who grew up with the festival. He has been here every year since the first edition. Meanwhile he started his study at the National Gymnasium of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He is part of this future. However, the future of each individual depends on him/her. That is why I find it difficult to speak in general. You see me, my colleagues, science is an inseparable part of our lives today, it will be the same in the future. That’s what I can say.

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