Science Museum Tips: On incorporating Current Research into an Exhibit

Science Museum Tips: On incorporating Current Research into an Exhibit


This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of ASTC’s Dimensions magazine. Kari Jensen, senior exhibit developer, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland


BodyWorks is a £2 million (USD 3,281,000) exhibition featuring more than 100 interactive exhibits, live lab experiences, and research capsules. Focusing on the wonder of the human body, BodyWorks aims to raise awareness of the science underpinning our health and well-being.

The key to incorporating current research into our exhibition was the time and resources provided to us by over 200 individuals and organizations. The relationships we built with these experts were vital. Here are our tips for making those relationships work:

  • Time: During the planning stages, factor in time to source, court, and develop your relationship with the expert. It takes time to know who is out there, determine what expertise they could provide, make contact, build the relationship, and maintain it.
  • Variety: Potential contributors have many other demands on their time so offering ways to contribute with varying levels of commitment is beneficial. For BodyWorks, our experts carried out a wide range of activities from joining the scientific advisory panel to supplying information to building complete exhibits.
  • Backup plan: If your expert is providing a critical element to the project’s success, have a backup plan. Despite people’s best intentions, they may let you down, so have a plan B.
  • Refresh: Current research is not current for very long. Design your exhibition so that it can be refreshed regularly and easily. We designed elements of the exhibition knowing that we intended to refresh them in 12–18 months, and therefore being able to do it cost effectively was important. We are continuing to work with experts who often incorporate this into their research grants.
  • Meet the expert: Once the exhibition is open, run public engagement sessions with your experts. This keeps the experts involved and not only enhances the visitor experience, but also allows you to easily incorporate new developments and reflect on any topical issues.
  • Relationships: Maintain relationships after your project has finished; nobody likes to be dumped. Return the favor and help your experts by facilitating public engagement or helping to compile their research excellence framework reports.

Robin Hoyle, director of science, Glasgow Science Centre, Scotland, United Kingdom

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