Science centres and museums


After serving the community for seven years, the Science Museum of Castilla-La Mancha (MCCM) has decided to renew itself. In this context, a survey of the needs and expectations of the people to which the museum is dedicated plays a major role for the changes planned to prove successful. Teachers are among the main users of the museum, staying at the core of all teaching-learning processes, and play a role as mediators between science and students. This paper analyses the judgements made by teachers about various types of events and teaching resources which are normally provided by science museums and, more specifically, the Science Museum of Castilla-La Mancha. Against that backdrop, science (our content), education (our objective) and the democratic participation of teachers will show a clear route to follow if one wants to achieve quality for our institution and its future events.


This paper addresses the role of museums in education in science and technology through the discussion of a specific project entitled EST “Educate in Science and Technology”. The Project puts together methodologies and activities through which museums can be used as resources for long-term project work. In-service training for teachers, work in class with learning kits or with materials brought in by a Science Van, and visits to the museum are planned and developed jointly by museum experts and teachers. The Project proposes a teaching and learning model which sees the museum experience as central and integral part of a teaching and learning process with more effective outcomes. The analysis of the Project activities and methodologies is based on the work carried out at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo da Vinci, which perceives the learner (the visitor) at the heart of its educational methodologies and provision.


In a meta-analysis carried out in 2002, the two main associations of science centres and museums (ASTC, mainly US-centered, and ECSITE, mainly European) gathered all studies analysing the impact of science centres and museums on their local communities1. Four types of impact were identified: personal, social, political and economical. It was noticed that the vast majority of studies concentrated on the personal impact (that is, learning outcome, visitor satisfaction, etc.), while the latter three were largely neglected. The very fact of pointing this out, and many recent experiences - some of which are included in this commentary - show that there is now a shift of attention.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


During the last annual conference of ECSITE (European Collaborative for Science and Technology Exhibitions; Helsinki, June 2005), for the first time two discussion sessions were devoted to explainers, the innumerable people – young students mainly – who welcome visitors at exhibitions, museums and festivals, who animate laboratories and science shows, who guide, explain and lately also stimulate and manage discussions and participatory procedures. Thanks to the involvement of the speakers, who agreed to submit a broadened version of their papers, JCOM is glad to host the proceedings of these meetings. A great deal has to be done yet in order to analyse the complex European context and to fully understand the explainer’s professional profile.


While the model for transmitting scientific information ­ a model that attributes the effects of a message on the public to the intent of the communicator mediated by text ­ is increasingly becoming an exclusive tool for communication novices, other alternative models are emerging and ­ most importantly ­ field research is being tested and examined.


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