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Jun 21, 2007 Commentary
The science and society movement and the MUSE project

by Michele Lanzinger

For the purpose of this article, Science & Society (S&S) is referred to as that current of thoughts and those cultural initiatives aimed at fostering dialogue between research, scientific and technical output on the one hand and society on the other, so as to allow people to make conscious decisions about science and the sustainability of its developments. This concept underlies the elaboration of the MUSE cultural concept, the new Science Museum in Trent, Northern Italy.

Volume 6 • Issue 02 • 2007

Dec 21, 2006 Article
Challenges of an exhibit on nanoscience and nanotechnology

by Sandra Murriello, Djana Contier and Marcelo Knobel

This article presents some of the challenges faced in developing an interactive exhibit on nanoscience and nanotechnology in Brazil. Presenting a scientific-technological area which is still in formation and which is little known by the population leads to a (re)consideration of the role of museums and science centers in the conformation and consolidation of scientific practice itself. Museographically, the exhibit deals with the challenge of making matter visible in an expression which is distant from the human perception. Some reflections are presented here on the option of musealization chosen which come from a broader evaluation of the exhibit.

Volume 5 • Issue 04 • 2006

Dec 21, 2006 Article
Apriti Cielo: the public’s astronomical imagery as a key to evaluate a museum project

by Stefano Giovanardi

An effective communication of astronomy cannot take place without considering the view the general public has on the universe. Through a number of narrative interviews with non-experts, a research was carried out on personal cosmologies, to outline the public’s heterogeneous astronomical imagery. The result is a bundle of conceptions, perceptions and attitudes which are useful to interpret the difficulties the public experiences when facing the contents of astrophysics, and to establish an ongoing dialogue.

Volume 5 • Issue 04 • 2006

Jun 21, 2006 Article
Science is not for me. Visitors’ attitudes to learning in an Italian science centre

by Monia Cardella

Following the example of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, interactive science museums are meant to be informal and enjoyable places where visitors, regardless of their age and background, are stimulated to practice their abilities to explore the world from a scientific point of view or to reacquire it in the case of adults who are far from science for professional reasons. Our study, which belongs to a relatively recent, but increasingly richer and complex tradition of researches on this topic, aims at contributing to answering the question whether, within the context of hands-on museums, this desired reacquisition of scientific exploration actually occurs for all visitors; more precisely, it aims at contributing to the discussion resulting from this question with reference to both possible answers and methods to find them. The study described below was carried out for a Science Communication Master thesis in Trieste (student: Monia Cardella, supervisor: Paola Rodari) and, therefore, it is inevitably limited: in fact, in order to deal with such a complex issue and to perform more detailed investigations on the field longer time and more resources would have been necessary. However, both methods used and results obtained from it, although provisional, are significant enough to deserve our attention.

Volume 5 • Issue 02 • 2006

Jun 21, 2006 Focus
Birth of a science centre. Italian phenomenology

by Paola Rodari

In May 2004 the Balì Museum, Planetarium and interactive science museum, was opened to the public in Italy: 35 hands-on exhibits designed according to the interactive tradition of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, an astronomic observatory for educational activities, a Planetarium with 70 places. With a total investment of about three million euros, about two thirds of which were spent on restructuring the splendid eighteenth-century villa in which it is housed, the undertaking may be considered a small one in comparison with other European science centres. Three million euros: perhaps enough to cover the cost of only the splendid circular access ramp to the brand-new Cosmocaixa in Barcelona, an investment of one hundred million euros. But the interesting aspect of the story of the Balì Museum (but also of other Italian stories, as we shall see) lies in the fact that this lively and advanced science centre stands in the bucolic region of the Marches, next to a small town of only 800 inhabitants (Saltara, in the Province of Pesaro and Urbino), in a municipal territory that has a total of 5000. Whereas in Italy the projects for science centres comparable with the Catalan one, for example projects for Rome and Turin, never get off the ground, smaller ones are opening in small and medium-sized towns: why is this? And what does the unusual location of the centres entail for science communication in Italy? This Focus does not claim to tell the whole truth about Italian interactive museums, but it does offer some phenomenological cues to open a debate on the cultural, economic and political premises that favour their lives.

Volume 5 • Issue 02 • 2006

Mar 21, 2006 Article
Contemporary aesthetic forms and scientific museology

by Alessandra Drioli

The use of various expressive artistic forms in science centres and in interactive museums is becoming increasingly widespread. This paper proposes an interpretation of this phenomenon that emphasises how contemporary art contributes to experimentation with new forms of scientific communication. Furthermore, it examines the considerable overlap apparent between the themes addressed by contemporary artists and current scientific developments. Indeed, just as can be seen in science centres, artistic experimentation has assumed a new role: raising public awareness of what is happening around us today.

Volume 5 • Issue 01 • 2006

Dec 21, 2005 Commentary
Training science centre Explainers. The Techniquest experience

by Colin Johnson

Techniquest was established in 1986, and in 1995 moved to its current premises at Cardiff Bay, South Wales. This was the first purpose-built science centre in the UK. It receives around 200,000 visitors every year to its exhibition, and to its programmes for schools and public audiences in the theatre, laboratory, discovery room and planetarium. The author joined the Techniquest project in 1985, became a staff member in 1990 and was the Chief Executive from 1997 until his retirement in 2004. Techniquest has three “out-stations” in Wales, and is responsible for the supply and maintenance of exhibits to the Look Out Discovery Centre in Bracknell, England. There is a Techniquest gallery at the Lisbon Pavilhão do Conhecimento - Ciência Viva, and a traveling exhibition, SciQuest, in South Africa which was also supplied by Techniquest. All these centres rely on the effective intervention of “Explainers” (at Techniquest we call them “Helpers”) to provide the best possible experience for visitors. At its most demanding, the tasks of an Explainer are varied and intensive, yet there may be times when the duties are mundane or even dull. When you rely on people to act as both hosts and housekeepers, to provide both support and stimulus, and to be both welcoming and watchful, you are asking a great deal. This article raises some of the issues concerned with the recruitment and retention of Explainers, their training and management, and the way in which their role is recognized and valued by the science centre as a whole.

Volume 4 • Issue 04 • 2005

Dec 21, 2005 Commentary
Should explainers explain?

by Antonio Gomes da Costa

One of the most common, and probably one of the crucial questions about science centers and interactive exhibitions is often phrased as “Ok, it’s fun, but do they learn anything?”. What follows is not an attempt to answer this question; we will just use it as a starting point for a discussion about the role of explainers in science centers. Explainers are usually very motivated people, possessing a genuine interest in science and technology and a scientific background they are eager to share. And they feel everyone else should be as enthusiastic about science as they are. This is a legitimate aspiration, of course, but how exactly does one try to achieve this goal? What is the explainer’s role? Quite often, the answer to the question “…but do they learn anything?” is: “Yes, if we teach them”. It is simple, straightforward, probably it works to some extent, and this is the reasoning that makes explainers become… well, explainers. And this should be avoided.

Volume 4 • Issue 04 • 2005

Dec 21, 2005 Commentary
History of the museums, the mediators and scientific education

by Brigitte Zana

Before analysing the role of the mediators in relation to scientific education, I deem it important to provide a short overview on how scientific museums evolved from the early curiosity cabinets to the modern web cast. Although the term “museum” is no longer adapted to the new structures employed for the diffusion of scientific and technical culture, the evolution of the means of presentation has indeed led to several forms of human mediation. This is of course the main topic we are going to take into consideration today, as it is an important element for the impact our exhibitions may have on the public. Decisions and choices vary from structure to structure for reasons that are sometimes justifiable but that are more often than not economic in nature, since wages, which are in any case very high no matter which country plays host, come to bear heavily especially on the budget of small and medium-sized structures.

Volume 4 • Issue 04 • 2005

Dec 21, 2005 Commentary
Literature review

by Leonardo Alfonsi

Few research studies have been conducted on the interpreter’s role in a Science Centre. Although the importance of this role is always stressed by museum practitioners, it seems that anecdotal evidence is the main source of information on this theme. The experience of a visitor in a Science Centre as well as in other museums has, among other things, well defined social dimensions. These dimensions are crucial in determining the quality and enjoyment of a visitor’s experience. There is evidence that suggests visitors go to a museum to meet others. Among the people that visitors meet in a Science Centre are interpreters, who help them not only to use and understand the exhibits but also to become familiar with a new environment. The following sections will illustrate what research studies say about interpreters, considering their twofold relation with visitors and exhibit developers.

Volume 4 • Issue 04 • 2005