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2019 at ScienceWorks: Curiosity for a lifetime

Heading into 2019, ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum Director Dan Ruby wants the facility to be a champion of science — and not just science for children.

That philosophy is reflected in new vision and mission statements that emphasize “inspiring curiosity and creating meaningful science experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds” and to do it “through engaging and interactive experiences.”

“We make art, and we do science. Those are things that human beings do as intelligent beings, and a lot of people don’t have any way to participate in science after they’re done with their school career,” Ruby says. “So outside the world of research and academia, science museums are one of the important ways of keeping people connected with the ongoing conversation of science.”

Additionally, Ruby adds, there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the science learning wanted for K-12 students.

“We want to do both of those things: fill in the gaps for K-12 education and engage lifelong learners into science,” says Ruby, director since July 2018. “That’s the big picture.”

Previously, the center’s mission had been “to inspire wonder and stimulate creative exploration through fun, interactive science and the arts.”

“There was a lot of discussion about the word ‘fun’ in that,” says marketing manager Erin Scott. “As a science center — which is what we are, we are not a children’s museum, we are a science center — that if we’re not making our programs and our activities and our exhibits inherently accessible — and ‘fun’ is part of being accessible — then we’re not doing our jobs.”

Inclusive learning

Museum officials say they want to do this by being more mindful of their reach and the different ages, cultures, and economic statuses that came through their doors.

“We’re very conscious of the fact that there are a lot of needs in the area, and that it’s not just local, it’s not just people in the 97520 area code,” Scott says.

Adult-specific programming is part of this, Scott says. ScienceWorks After Hours, which will launch in February, will host monthly interactive events and activities for the 21-plus crowd. Alcohol and food will be part of the deal.

“Really it’s focusing on adult science education, and there are so many fun things you can do with that,” Scott says. “We’ve got so many cottage industries in this area. We’ve got cheese, we’ve got beer, we’ve got wine, we’ve got baking. And all of those lend themselves really well toward exploring science.”

Youth are part of the new plans, too. The museum plans to start movie nights in March, tailored for middle schoolers up through college-age students, along with after-school programs.

“There are not a whole lot of teen-accessible spaces in the area,” Scott says. “We’re not going to single-handedly solve that. That would be very, very ambitious and we know our limitations, but we would like to be a place that students can come to.”

Museum officials also hope to enhance what they already have, making exhibits and offerings more accessible for patrons who don’t speak English or have difficulty seeing or hearing.

“Accessibility is not just ADA compliance,” Scott says. “There’s accessibility through language, getting more of our exhibits — both the traveling as well as the permanent installations — to have bilingual signage. To have braille on them. How can we be more accessible with sight impairments and hearing impairments?”

Making admission costs more affordable for those who need it has been a focus of the museum this past year. They’ve done that by participating in the Museums for All program, which gives anyone with an EBT card reduced admission prices. They also plan to roll out a veteran discount next year.

Not being a static site and taking museum offerings out to specific communities is also key to the museum’s new vision.

“There is not a one-size-fits-all thing that ScienceWorks can do that works for everybody in the region,” Ruby says. “So (we’re) kind of developing little micro-products for everybody and taking science to them. We have an awesome facility here, and it’s a great headquarters, but our programs have to be happening in the communities of the people that we want to serve, because we can’t expect that people can easily or even, at all, get to us. So we want to do a lot more outreach, off-site stuff.”

“Three-tiered” exhibits

Ruby says he wants all exhibits and programming to come with three levels of impact: personal, community, and global.

“It’s really important that we think about how science is important for individuals. Individuals are curious about the world around them, science is a really personal thing. It also is the lens that we look at our communities through. And it’s also a thing that affects global — and larger — systems. I kind of want everything ... our integrated exhibits, and programming and K-12 education efforts in the future to be thinking of those different scales: personal, community and global.”

“It’s ‘What does the science mean? Why does it matter?’” he adds.

A 1977 short film that shows reality from a constantly shifting perspective helped inspire Ruby’s idea of having museum attendees learn about science through different lenses.

“Powers of 10,” a film by Charles and Ray Eames, opens with an overhead shot of a couple having a picnic. Then the camera begins to pull back.

“Every 10 seconds, we will look from 10 times farther away, and our field of view will be 10 times wider,” the narrator says as the camera ascends.

So it is. The shot rockets into the sky. The viewer can see the city, the state, the whole of planet Earth, its orbit around the sun. Farther and farther out to the Milky Way and beyond. The course then reverses, rocketing back to the starting point at the picnic, the perspective passing through cells, DNA, and all the way to a storm of subatomic particles.

“I like thinking about things on different scales,” Ruby says.

One of the first of these three-tiered exhibits is slated to open Feb. 2. “Wild Music,” developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota, will explore the intersection between humans and the natural world through sound and music. There will be underwater, forest and cityscape areas, all focusing on the sounds unique to those environments. Some of the offerings include tanks with underwater microphones, a recording studio and “jam room.”

“There’s a lot of really fun stuff that explores the science of sound,” Ruby says. “That’s a little bit of a different direction for us. It’s a big exhibit. I think it’s more appealing for all ages.”

Additional upcoming exhibits include one that celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Eventually, the museum hopes to offer a series of exhibits on climate change.

“We want to be able to look at it in ways that are meaningful, globally and community-wise and individually,” Ruby says.

Home-grown content

When it comes to exhibits, the museum also wants to focus more on home-grown ones they design and build. Officials want a key focus of the facility to be on research and development.

“It was kind of in the original DNA of the institution to begin with,” says Steve Utt, chairman of the science advisory board. “The things that are within ScienceWorks now, all the exhibits, were built originally by the community. It was kind of like a barn raising.”

Museum officials are interested in getting back to creating more exhibits on a regular basis and ultimately becoming a facility that’s known for its research and development efforts as much as it’s known for its exhibits on display.

“Really just a driver for really cool science education,” Ruby says. “Really innovative science engagement stuff that our museum just becomes the showcase for. So that we get to show off to our community really cool stuff that’s important on a national and global level, and our community gets to see that first.”

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.


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