Enlightenment was the theme of last night’s Paralympic Opening Ceremony, with science taking centre stage. The ceremony included British scientist Stephen Hawking, the Big Bang, Newton’s Apple and even an interpretation of the Higgs Boson. This celebration of Great Britain’s rich history of scientific discovery and innovation through a fusion of art, science and sport was welcomed by scientists, who commended the portrayal of science and progress at an event watched by 7.7 million people across the globe.
Biology and sport are inextricably linked, as we saw at Parliamentary Links Day. A thorough understanding of anatomy, physiology, endocrinology, diet and nutrition is vital for athlete training, injury prevention and recovery, and for the detection of banned substances or doping. Sport drives innovation, and medical advances developed for elite athletes often translate into treatments for the general public. This link is particularly relevant for Paralympians, whose use of science and technology for training has helped to diagnose and treat debilitating disease, speed recovery rates, and develop better mobility aids.
If ticket sales and ceremony viewers are anything to go by, this year’s Paralympic Games has already been hugely successful, and will act as an introduction to physical, mental and sensory disabilities that many spectators know little about. The athletes are both inspirational and educational, helping us to understand disability, something that is vital for banishing discrimination and ensuring equality, so that all can reach their potential.
The Society of Biology is committed to equality issues in the sciences, and is a core member of the STEM Disability Committee (STEM DC), a grouping of learned societies and academies with a commitment to improving policies, practices and provision for disabled people in STEM disciplines. The nature of STEM education and workplaces, whether in the lab, field, classroom or office, can hinder some with disabilities and prevent them from contributing their skills and expertise. STEM DC supports selected projects that identify these issues and work practically to overcome them, for both mentally and physically disabled students and employees wanting to progress in STEM.
The Royal Academy of Engineering is hosting an interesting series of events on Disability in Sports, the first taking place next week, including a lecture by Dr Amit Goffer on Powered Exoskeletons: Overcoming Vertical Mobility Impairments. For more information, see http://www.raeng.org.uk/events/default.htm