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Science centres: the next 50 years?

50 years ago the first science centres as we know them today opened: the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto.

It was the start of a big science centre movement which led to the development of almost 3,000 science centres wrorld-wide, all using the same concept of interactive learning.

What will happen in the next 50 years? What will science centres look like in post-truth times, and in the times that will come after? Will they integrate in society or will they simply disappear?

How can science centres not only react to current issues but reinvent themselves for the future? How can science centres move from being followers to shaping the future?

Experts and science centre leaders will give a brief insight into the young history of our field and share their views on the future of science centres in fast-paced pitches, followed by a debate between panelists.


Science Popularisation Collaborative

Session legacy

There are at least 2 ways of seeing how something could turn out 50 years into the future: predicting it based on where it seems to be taking itself or to direct it, at least, in major directions towards a dreamy or ideal one, at least accdg to what you think it could be missing now. So in deciding how to see science centers 50 years from now, I veer more towards the latter – I dream of science centers becoming:

A champion of connections in as many ways as possible:

For instance, I can imagine or dream that the jargon science centers liberate science from will do even better and be replaced by a lexicon drawn from a multi-cultural pool of words that can better describe and explain a principle, a fact, process, in context. For example - the Japanese may have a word for robots, the Americans for wild lands, “samu’t saring buhay” is a phrase from what a country like ours in the tropics have for biodiversity that speak not just about life’s stupendous variety but inherent and wondrous complexity. It is much like an Anthony Bourdain-inspired way of drawing from multiplicity to have glimpses of universality – the science version of it.

But more importantly, I dream of science centers going beyond STEM to showing how STEM can help make our individual and collective lives better to showing how in equal measure, it cannot do it alone without the arts and humanities. The newly released book by the US Academy of Sciences Engineering and Medicine entitled Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in Higher Education, Branches from the Same Tree, makes a case for what the science icon himself, Einstein himself called all those disciplines – as “branches from the same tree.”

The book revealed that employers have said that more than technical skills which training (not education) does, what they value in applicants are “writing and oral communication skills, critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills, teamwork skills, ethical decision making, and the ability to apply knowledge in real-world settings.” This requires a kind of thinking where you can draw from many disciplines because “many real-world problems have dimensions that are humanistic, scientific, technical, medical, and aesthetic.” Very few problems, if any, are just one thing. Nothing meaningful is just one thing. Maybe science centres could herald connections, even showing where science should not be the centre of the discussions on something - like peace.

A champion of applications of how science serves life – not just as special projects as many of our institutions have now but as one of the main pillars of science centers that we run ourselves: whether it be a sustainable dining restaurant, an urban farm, an experimental school where you apply what neuroscientific insights in classroom settings, or overcoming primal impulses to protect “us” and to exclude “them”, a rehabilitation place for wildlife, a comforting place where diseases are understood as far as they can be and their possible cures and treatments.

Maybe science centers of the future will be in the best position, relative to schools, to give rise to another renaissance of education – to bring together the disciplines and to have them shake hands and lock eyes, in both layers of ortho and praxis, and give us world views and real work, that make us better humans.

Session speakers

President & CEO
Museum of Life and Science
Durham, NC
United States
AI and exponential technologies will shape the future of science centers. Interactive exhibits, the defining characteristic of science centers, will give way to immersive experiences where interactivity and screening merge and intelligent agents engage participants in conversation. Forward-thinking science centers will prepare for the future by monitoring all potential disruptors, constantly adapting as customers’ behaviors change, and creating meaningful experiences that keep them engaged.
Phot of Maurice Bitran
CEO and Chief Science Officer
At the nexus between science and society, science centres have played a significant role in mainstreaming science & technology in the last half century. With fresh physical and digital engagement models and stronger links to their innovation & education ecosystems science centres of the future should play a larger role in fostering a culture of science & innovation and in curating an inclusive public dialogue on science and society, 2 critical functions for our economic and social well-being.
Ars Electronica Linz
Science Centers played a big role in establishing the importance of STEM-education for technical and economic innovation. We are now facing challenges that make it increasingly important to add creativity. Hence the integration of artists is getting more attention. Places like Exploratorium started out from the field of science; the philosophy behind Ars Electronica originates from the arts. How can we take the best from both to respond in the best way to the increasing need of collaboration?
Director of the Science Centre
Recently Città della Scienza started establishing its future a.o. with Corporea, the first interactive European museum on the human body and Campania NewSteel, the first certified Incubator in the South of Italy for business creation and acceleration, a partnership with the University of Naples. Furthermore the D.RE.A.M. FabLab dedicated to new digital manufacturing technologies, computational design and health accessibility, projects us towards the new frontiers of manufacture 4.0.
Maria Isabel Garcia
How would science museums transform themselves so that they go beyond being inspirational places? How can they be more compelling in terms of not just explanation but action? How can they move beyond rhetoric and face issues head on, including how poorly science has addressed some relevant concerns facing humanity now and in 50 years? How can it be a force to winnow knowledge that comes from both the past and the present to inform, enrich and empower the future? How could science centers walk its talk?
Ulrike Kastrup, focusTerra
Museum Director
University science museums present research results that are to a significant extent related to the work done in-house. This gives the museums the chance to not only communicate general scientific knowledge but also state-of-the-art scientific result. Being close to the heart of research scientists can be involved in the museum’s outreach program to discuss with the visitors why data matter and how science work. Through small research tasks, visitors can experience science for themselves.
CEO and General Director
MIDE Museo Interactivo de Economia
Mexico City
The future of our field must be seen from the perspective of our visitors, everyday life is whole and present itself with challenges that do not distinguish between disciplines and cognitive barriers. Integrating new disciplines as Economy with Science Communication and the collaboration to promote critical and creative thinking amongst our visitors and users present an opportunity for social wellbeing and social inclusion.