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Research without barriers: A conference diary from Erice, city of science and enthusiasm

Erice is a charming and characteristic medieval village located in the hills of Trapani (Sicily) in Italy. Every year, in August alone, more than a hundred thousand people from around the world cross its streets to admire its beauty and peculiarities.

Amongst these is the Castle of Venus, with a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Trapani, the Cathedral and King Frederick's tower, and the ruins of the "Santissimo Salvatore" Monastery.

But Erice is not only this. Erice is called the city of science. The reason for this name is enclosed behind a door that reads Center for Scientific Culture Ettore Majorana, San Rocco Institute. Since 1963, the former monastery of San Pietro (later San Rocco and then the convent of San Domenico) has been the headquarters of a scientific organization founded by physicist Antonino Zichichi, its president still today.

During the Cold War years, scientists continued to meet there. Great minds such as Paul Dirac, Piotr Kapitza, and Antonino Zichichi drew up the "Erice Manifesto" there in August 1982. At a time when research was being conducted for military purposes and nuclear weapons were designed, this manifesto intended to emphasize that science must be without ideological, political, and racial barriers. Without borders, in the service of peace. This is the legacy that the 123 Schools in all fields of modern scientific research that live behind that door are still keeping alive. And, this September, we were part of that.

Participating in the School of Neuroscience workshop Comparative Neurobiology of Higher Cognitive Functions, we heard new perspectives on the brain mechanisms underlying cognitive processes in different species (from bees to monkeys, from octopuses to insects). We explored possible evolutionary trends responsible for solving similar problems in different, species-specific environments. We shared our research, which addresses similar issues by observing children in the first years of life.

Dr. Elisa Roberti presented on how neural processes support synchrony in dyads of parents and full-term vs. preterm infants. Knowing how crucial it is to understand how we adapted to different ecological situations and found solutions to specific problems while at the same time influencing the evolution of brain circuits and functions (2-BRAINS),

Dr. Luisa Vercellino presented a poster on the different interactive patterns that infants with low-vision and their parents develop to coordinate reciprocal communicative bids and behaviors across the well-validated Face-to-Face Still-Face procedure. These preliminary data come from the MEET project, which is still ongoing in our lab.

We met young and senior colleagues and learned life lessons between a few glasses of marsala and songs sung at the top of our lungs accompanied by piano and guitar. The convivial atmosphere that was created allowed the young people to engage with established figures in scientific research with curiosity and spontaneity.

We walked among the ruins of the Selinunte and Segesta temples, built by one of the greatest civilizations in history. This unique experience allows those who live it to be enriched professionally and personally, thanks to the enthusiasm of the participants who share science with sincere passion. Erice's scientific community in the 1980s fought to eliminate ideological, political, and racial barriers from science. Today's Erice scientific community is the concrete, enthusiastic, and sometimes unconscious (we blame it on the marsala) demonstration that their wish has become a reality.


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