The role of Science Centers in Science Communication

The Science Center of Montreal.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to work as a volunteer at the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) annual conference. It was hard work with Saturday having me almost a full 12h on my feet (day started at 6h30) and Sunday being a full day as well, albeit, being only 8h. Was it worth it? 100% yes.

I’ve mentioned to you ad nauseam that I want to go into science communication, mostly as a science (or medical, we will see) writer. But off course, that is not the only way to share science. Science communication is obviously part of the mission of science centers, along with education and community building.

I will not talk to you about how different this congress was to more academic ones…I mean, I will, just not today. Today I want to talk to you about another point that I saw coming back during the conference and that is the relevance of science centers and programs. Allow me to tell you a story that might seem like going through the branches, but will help the discussion: as one of the talks finished, I had to wait for everyone to go out the room. At the same time, a woman in charge of cleaning the room approached me to ask what the conference was about (side note: she didn’t speak English or French, only Spanish, which is why she didn’t read the posters, and noticing my last name went for it). I explained to her that this particular talk was about making science centers more relevant to adults as well as to kids. She said: “Oh that is actually a good idea, because to be honest, I do think of sending my kids to museums to learn, but for me? The idea doesn’t seem interesting, it’s more of a children’s thing”

That is one of the great problems a lot centers and programs are encountering, and if we are being honest, research too. How to make science (as a whole, both in research and in communication of it) relevant to everyone; how to make this subjects stick to the public, independent of their age. How do we get them to care?

While the role of science communicators is getting stronger, there’s still a lot of ground to cover. Grabbing the attention of people is not always easy and specially in a society that, unfortunately, dismisses science more often than not, convincing people that it is worth their time and attention, is not evident. That’s where programs as Adult Only Nights at the Telus Spark, or the iNaturalist community events come in. When you involve the community and when you remind the adult of how much fun science can be, they get interested and they pass this interest on, not only to their children, but to their peers too.

Off course, this is not an easy task. It’s going to be almost a year since I started this blog, and while I do have a fair amount of traffic, getting people to participate has been a challenge. And that is only my personal experience. One of the issues that I am perfectly aware of, is that I haven’t manage to post as consistently as I would like to. Sure, finishing a PhD might have something to do with that, but still. Getting content ready and being able to grab people’s attention is still something I am working on. But now imagine the scale that Science centers have to work at. Wider communities, ages, etc. They have to keep renewing their programs and content and yet keeping it accessible and attractive for the mases. As you can imagine, it’s a big task. But they are doing it, they keep innovating and they keep helping researchers to get more people interested in science.

Let’s not forget science centers when we think of science communication. Have you visited your local SciCenter already? Tell me about your favorite exhibits and what makes them unique at communicating science!

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