Science Competition: Take the test and win a tour: If you are aged between 14 and 18 and aware that scientific culture exists outside a Petri dish, we have a competition for you, says Tom Wilkie

CLASSICAL Greece was the cradle of science; in Renaissance Italy it came of age. Although the scientific enterprise was nurtured by the mathematicians and astronomers of Islam during the Dark Ages of superstition in the West, science is now, as it has always been, a fundamental strand of European culture.

And yet, the notion of 'scientific culture' seems odd to many people. Although the divide between scientific, and literary and intellectual culture is widest in the UK, and was most famously delineated by C P Snow's 1959 Rede lectures, 'The Two Cultures', in Cambridge, it is common to virtually all countries of Europe.

Celebrations of science as culture are comparatively rare. But this year, for the first time, there will be a pan-European festival not only to celebrate our scientific inheritance but to remind everyone that the wise and proper application of scientific understanding is the only sure hope of human progress.

Following an initiative by the European Commission, this 'European Week for Scientific Culture' will be taking place between 22 and 27 November 1993. The Independent, in conjunction with the British Association for the Advancement of Science, will be marking the event.

To catch and retain the interest of young people, and to remind them of the role European scientists have played in shaping the world in which they live, we will be running a competition for those aged 14 to 18. Twenty questions about European scientists will appear on the Science page of the Independent on the first day of the European Week, 22 November, repeated on our Education pages on 25 November and again on the Science page of 29 November.

The questions will be about the scientists who forged our common inheritance. Some may be straightforward, but to answer others will require background knowledge about science and time spent with reference books.

Six winners will go on accompanied tours to various research laboratories and centres of scientific culture in other European countries. Among the institutions that have agreed to host some of the winners are the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, or Cern, near Geneva. The Instituto Astrofisicas de las Canarias will arrange for others to visit the international astronomical observatory, Los Roques de Los Muchachos, at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

Other activities to celebrate the European Week of Scientific Culture include 'open- door' days at scientific laboratories, conferences and exhibitions. For example, four research laboratories - in Cologne, Birmingham, Valencia and Lisbon - involved in an EC research project in plant biotechnology will throw open their doors and invite the public in to learn about 'The power behind the flower'. The environmental problems affecting the Mediterranean coastline and the way in which science can gain a deeper understanding and thus help to solve them will be the focus of simultaneous events in Barcelona and Naples.

The Science Museum in London will host an overnight 'science camp' for several dozen children from different European countries.

In association with Belgium's Association for the Advancement of Science, Belgian television has produced film about the genetic and cultural diversity of the peoples of Europe. The Cite des Sciences et de l'Industrie de la Villette in Paris is organising a conference on scientific thought and practices in Europe, jointly with the Science History Institute of Florence.

The problems of scientific communication in Europe will be the focus of a seminar at Cern for science journalists. Cern will also sponsor a 'scientific ballet', the Universe of Light, which will take the form of a dance depicting in allegorical form the story of the big bang and the creation of the universe.

The unique feature of the competition, devised by the Independent and the British Association for the Advancement of Science, is that it will be truly European: the same competition will appear in publications in other European countries at the same time. Further details will be published on the Science pages of the Independent between now and the inauguration of European Science Week.

For the moment, however, here is something to whet the appetite. The scientist depicted on the official logo for the event believed that he could move the world, but he came to grief over lines drawn in the sand. Who was he? The answer will be published on next Monday's Science page.