By Jo Ann Secor
Principal, Director of Interpretive Services
This year’s ECSITE 2018 – the annual conference of European Science Centres & Museums -was held in Geneva, Switzerland. Entitled, “Creative Collisions” it took place from June 7-9. Lee Skolnick (Founder and Principal of our firm, SKOLNICK Architecture + Design Partnership) and I attended. This was our 4th ECSITE conference to date, our first being the 2015 conference held in Trento, Italy and sponsored by the new science museum there, MUSE. After that, we were hooked. The 2018 in Porto, Portugal was Lee’s second year presenting on a panel and subsequent workshop on a passion topic of his, ‘narrative and design’ (architecture/ exhibitions) with colleagues from the museum and exhibition worlds. The chance to meet a really diverse population of like-minded folks in really beautiful and interesting world locales is definitely energizing but what I really love about these conferences is the collision of creative ideas and how the arts AND sciences intertwine so effortlessly….so here are some of the gems from the conference:
• A session on Science Communication shared the results of high school students working with actual scientists conducting research on DNA. This experience elicited responses from the students such as, “(I was) excited to work on something that would really be used for something; not just a pretend project”; many students cited that they liked the fact that their work was professionally useful to science and not just something for students to try. 69% said it was very important to hear from the scientists about their work; scientists became role models for many students – wow, this project sounds like a role model!
• An opening event at CERN was so novel and fresh…the exhibits were great and to the point… scientists were our tour guides and explained the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) that runs around the periphery of Geneva close to the speed of light!
This is one of the visitor centers with exhibitions at CERN
One of the many collaborative ‘ideaspaces’ located at CERN
• A session on “Science with and for Youth” explored how several projects are empowering future decision-makers to ‘build effective cooperation between science and society’ as created by the European Commission’s Science with and for Society (Swaf) program aimed at ‘recruiting new talent to science and to pair scientific excellence with social awareness and responsibility…….’ The project presented by Annette Klinkert, CEO of City2Science, located in Germany, spoke of high school students tackling broad topics such as “The Future of the City’; “The Future of Human Beings” and “The Future of Mobility” with specific discussions around urban gardening, smart traffic, stem cells, etc. They were able to vet their research with scientists and based upon their discussions and input developed recommendations and resolutions which they presented in parliamentary debates in city halls. WOW…that IS science and society working together, hand in hand. Other presenters were Frederick Fenter, Ex. Editor of Frontiers who is publishing the journal, “Frontiers for Young Minds” aimed at 10-14 yr-olds…the twist on this scientific journal is that the articles ARE written by scientists, but they are reviewed by a board of kids for accessibility to their peers…love this! The project currently involves over 400 students in Israel and also involves The Bloomfield Science Museum located in Jerusalem.
• A memorable feature was the Keynote Lecture by Particle Physicist, James Beacham, who is working on the Atlas Project at CERN. The single most thought he left us all with was, “Look where no one else is looking”…give yourself the opportunity to look at things/situations/challenges in a new way that may help you come up with a new perspective that leads to a solution, innovation or invention….loved this too! such an inspiring speaker and talk..plus I loved his questions, “Do we live in a multiverse as opposed to a universe?“…”what is the why and the how behind the why and the how?”….”how much do we value scientific curiosity?”…. yes, open up new ways of thinking about the ordinary to get to the extraordinary. Yay James Beacham!
Visiting the wonderful Museum of the History of Science housed in a precious and historic villa on the banks of Lake Geneva, was a complete aha discovery moment of wonderful and authentic scientific instruments and fabulously scribbled-in notebooks. Here was the real deal; there were friction electricity devices; many early models of the solar system, parabolic dishes to demonstrate igniting things on fire and much more…. a potential half-hour visit turned into an hour of awe and wonderment.
Onto the ECSITE conference double-session for “The Exponential Potential of Narrative Parts 1 and 2“ – a panel discussion followed by a 1.5 hour exhibit design workshop with participants of various backgrounds, interests and talents, tackling topics such as watchmaking and time; coral reef destruction; CERN; and, of course, being in Geneva, chocolate. Organized by Lee Skolnick and Mikko Myllykoski, Experience Director at Huereka – The Finnish Science Centre in Fantaa, Finland, the panel and workshop explored how storytelling can both inform and enlighten visitors through compelling narrative experiences.
There were so many other sessions I had hoped to attend such as: ‘Mathematical interactive exhibits and bodily engagement’; ‘Computational tinkering’, ‘Escape Room demo’; ‘Challenging our brains to come up with new ideas’ and ‘Art as agent of change for our institutions’….iterations of these and new ideas will have to wait for ECSITE 2019. Until then, I have terrific memories of seeing dear friends and colleagues and meeting new ones: