This is part of a series of reviews of the sessions held by the Science Communication Group on 13th September, in celebration of 21 years of the Science Communication MSc at Imperial College. We will be putting up reviews of each session over the next couple of weeks. If you went to the celebrations and would like to have your say, please get in touch: @I_science_mag, or via the contacts page.
Museum Trends: The Future of Science Exhibitions
Chair: Rachel Souhami
Panel: Alison Boyle (Curator of Astronomy & Modern Physics, Science Museum), Mark Carnall (Curator, Grant Museum of Zoology, UCL), and James Peto (Senior Curator, Wellcome Collection).
The collection of objects displayed during an exhibition offers a unique selling point for a museum, explained Alison Boyle of the Science Museum. Boyle went further, adding that there has always been a conflict in the purpose of a museum between collating objects of scientific interest, and educating and communicating with people about science.
The discussion continued, and it was decided that although it is important to draw people in via a good story, it must be the objects on display that provide a reason for people visiting. There were many examples of how different collections had cleverly displayed objects in order to draw crowds into a museum; my favourite came from James Peto of the Wellcome Collection.
During an exhibition on the heart, a photograph of a heart and lung machine was displayed next to an actual human heart taken after a transplant. After recovering from the transplant surgery, the patient was able to come to the museum to see her own heart. The photograph of this meeting is incredibly moving and I cannot think of a more powerful use of objects within a science exhibition.
With regards to the future of science exhibitions, the panellists seemed excited about the use of social media to engage the public in a two-way dialogue. Mark Carnall introduced the audience to qrator.org, which asks questions about an exhibition in order to encourage a discussion around the objects on display (examples include, “Do you think people today should perform dissection as part of their learning?” and “Should we clone extinct animals?”).
Interesting, inspiring and exciting – this session was a fascinating introduction to the present and future states of science museums.