Petnica Science Center
Petnica Science Center (PSC) is an independent, nonprofit organisation for extracurricular, formal and informal, science education. Located in Western Serbia, its campus consists of five buildings – dormitory, restaurant, laboratories building, central building with lecture rooms, and library with administration offices. The campus is surrounded by cultivated green areas, with a beautiful view of the nearby valley.
The main aim of Petnica’s educational activities is not to emphasise memorising facts, but to improve students’ rational and logical thinking skills, their ability to identify and solve problems, to teach them how to design and manage projects, how to draw conclusions, find reliable information sources, as well as to upgrade their communication skills.
The main goals of PSC educational programs are:
- To identify gifted secondary school and university students from all parts of the country, especially from provincial and poor regions, and to provide them with intensive, individualised extracurricular education;
- To enable the most active and the most interested students to implement scientific projects based on real-world problems and using appropriate professional, scientific equipment, under the supervision of professional scientists and the best science teachers;
- To train early-career science teachers how to apply state-of-the-art scientific concepts, knowledge and educational methods in their teaching;
- To encourage cooperation and the exchange of knowledge, experience and ideas among students enrolled in different types of secondary school and university programs, and those interested in different scientific fields.
Educational programs in Petnica are not linked with school curriculums, nor do they apply the usual school teaching methods. Targeting students aged 14-20, Petnica’s educational activities cover a broad spectrum of disciplines in sciences, humanities, and technologies. The main goal is to help students learn and develop critical thinking skills, data collecting methods, and communication techniques, as well as the ability of continuous learning and enriching your knowledge and experiences. PSC encourages participants to think freely, logically and critically, and to collaborate with people from different regions and cultural backgrounds.
The majority of PSC activities are designed for teenagers, but there is also a variety of programs for university students and school teachers. Each year about 2000 students from Serbia and abroad take part in some of the 120 available training courses, workshops and science camps at the Petnica campus. PSC has gained recognition for its innovative methods in science education, as well as for significant results in educating children and students and identifying talents.
There are no official grades in Petnica, no certificates, no strict rules or typical teachers, but rather flexible innovative programs, interactive teaching, modern equipment, with no regional or national limits for students. The readiness to support students’ ideas and research projects, the young staff, and numerous enthusiastic visiting scientists and teachers – all these factors led to PSC becoming the heart of Serbian alternative education and, even more importantly, a beloved gathering place for young people hungry for new knowledge.
PSC science and technology training activities cover a broad spectrum of disciplines such as Astronomy, Life-sciences, Electronics, Psychology, Chemistry, Geo-sciences, Physics, Anthropology, Archaeology, Mathematics, Industrial Design, and many others.
There are various types of courses, science camps and workshops at PSC. Activities take 3, 4, 5, up to 15 days (the long ones taking place only during summer school breaks). A student can come to Petnica once, twice, or even three or four times a year, to attend different, complementary activities. They can then apply for a second year, to take part in further activities within the same field – mainly to get the opportunity to work on individual or team science projects. They can also apply for different programs each year, as long as they are secondary school students.
Each year students from more than 500 secondary schools from all parts of Serbia apply to attend PSC programs. PSC pays special attention to students from provincial schools and less developed regions, but the percentage of teenagers interested in science and technology is higher in major cities and more developed regions.
Parallel to the regular training programs for teenagers, PSC hosts many specialised meetings and conferences, mostly focused on early career researchers and PhD students. In recent years, such activities successfully covered a broad spectrum of topics – from Archaeology, Astrophysics, Analytical Chemistry, Bio-medicine, Psychology and Life-sciences, to Musicology, Photography, Design and 3D printing.
“Petnica Science Day” is a new one-day activity for students (aged 7-18) and their teachers from school science clubs. During the event at PSC, many attractive experiments and interactive workshops are organised. In line with the requests of the teachers, these activities can be focused on one or more school subjects.
In addition to programs for Serbia and the region, there is also Petnica International (PI). PI is a popular two-week-long summer science camp open for participants aged 18-20 from all over the world. Participants have a unique opportunity to experience interesting lectures and experiments, and to carry out small-scale research projects. There are also about a dozen courses and workshops in English for international students organised every year.
The Center is in Petnica, a village 7 km (4 mi) SE of Valjevo, and 99 km (60 mi) SW of Belgrade. Valjevo is well connected with Belgrade, via frequent bus and rail connections, as well as with other nearby cities. This location was selected because of its natural attributes and its exceptional suitability for carrying out various forms of fieldwork and outdoor activities.
Only four kilometres SW from PSC is the river Gradac, which has been placed under special protection because of its beauty and preserved nature, several caves, diverse flora and fauna, and clean, potable water. Further S and SW, PSC is surrounded by a mountain range (~1,200 m high) covered with dense forests, meadows, and numerous rivers and gorges.
Even closer, in the vicinity of PSC is the famous Petnica cave. It is composed of complex underground canals, spacious halls, stalactites, stalagmites, an underground lake and river, and rare plants and animal life. It is also a rich paleontological and archaeological site. Adjacent to the cave is an archaeological site – the remains of a 7,000 years old Neolithic village.
Apart from a relatively small number of permanent, administrative and technical staff, there are more than 800 enthusiastic guest teachers, lecturers and mentors who are involved in carrying out PSC programs. They are all carefully selected from over one hundred university departments, laboratories or industrial R&D centres. Today, more than half of them are PSC alumni.
All these programs are enabled by PSC’s well-designed living and work facilities. The dormitory can accommodate up to 170 people in comfortable single or shared rooms for up to 4 people, with ensuite bathroom and airconditioning. The building also includes a dozen meeting and lecture rooms. The restaurant can serve up to 250 persons at the same time. The library is a multi-functional facility with a collection of about 50,000 books and magazines and tens of thousands of digital publications.
PSC is always happy to share its experience and ideas with partner organisations. From time to time, PSC hosts training courses for groups of teachers from Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Russia, Israel and many other countries from the region and all over the world., It also promotes active co-operation between similar projects abroad such as exchanges of students with institutions in Germany, Croatia, Italy, and Israel.
PSC is a nonprofit and independent organisation, and it exists thanks to the support of many people, foundations, and companies. Without such recognition of the intrinsic value of out-of-school education of motivated and curious young people, Petnica Science Center would be just a dream.
The total annual operating costs of PSC are about 1 million Euro. The income, coming from various sources, is less than 3/4 of the needed funds. This affects the upgrade of teaching equipment and the organisation of new activities, and on occasion, it also causes reductions in the number of students invited to participate in regular programs. PSC depends on the goodwill and understanding of several donors and sponsors.
Can you help? Your financial contribution would certainly be welcome. You could also donate new books, teaching and scientific equipment for students’ research activities, such as computers, chemicals etc. This is an excellent way to invest in brilliant motivated young people – the best possible investment in the future! Petnica Science Center is grateful for any kind of direct support, even just understanding of its delicate mission in creating a better future.