The Chair of the Wellcome Trust, Baroness Manningham-Buller visited the exhibit pod, and spoke to the Design for Creativity and Innovation in Informal Science Learning team of academic researchers and science centre practitioners. The team explained to the Baroness about the live science experiments we are undertaking with it, and the research outcomes we might see. The Baroness officially opened the Brain Zone gallery at the Centre for Life in Newcastle, where the exhibit pod is hosted amongst other exhibits that engage people with exploring how our brains work.
The Brain Zone has had input from practitioners and designers, and also from from a wide-range of scientists and researchers, from neuroscientists to psychologists. However, our multidisciplinary team of academics from Durham University broadened out the disciplines represented to include anthropology, digital humanities, and computer scientists (Dr Hannah Rudman is Honorary Fellow at Durham University, and brings the computer science discipline of information systems to the team, as well as her design thinking and participatory action research methods).
The exhibit pod attracted much attention in the gallery, especially from a group of sixth-form girls studying science. Many of them engaged with the physical building experiment for long periods, building some extremely creative (and beautiful!) constructions. We hope some of these girls keep on with their science studies, perhaps through feeling enabled to stay engaged through more creative approaches being encouraged. Earlier this year, WISE – a campaign to promote women in science, technology and engineering – published statistics revealing that fewer women graduated from UK universities with a science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) degree in 2015 than in 2014 (nearly 6,000 fewer, a drop of 5%). The experiments hosted in the exhibit pod will test our hypothesis about whether developing creativity and innovation in science activity could offer a different route into STEM subjects.
The team had the opportunity to reflect on the exhibit pod in situ and in action: together with its designers, as well as with the developers currently working on digital versions of the experiments. We noticed that the tablets (for digitally collecting ethical consent and giving participants instructions) were being ignored by some people. Others noticed the tablets and engaged with them once they had already started the building exercise that is part of the experiment. So a final tweak to the design will be to signpost people to look at the tablet first – we need people to give their ethical consent before they engage with the experiment if we are going to use their data in the research. The designers suggested using some text on the exhibit pod’s tables where the building blocks are scattered. Then, even if people are most attracted by the blocks, they will be directed to engage first with the tablets because they although they are initially looking at the building space, instructions there point them to give their ethical consent.
In a few weeks time, all the final niggles will be resolved, and the academics will be able to leave the exhibit pod to host the experiments and gather data automatically and digitally. The pod and the activity can be overseen by the Centre for Life’s on-the-floor facilitators, which means that the small group of academics can undertake a large scale longitudinal anthropological scientific experiment, without needing to be there in person. The design of the pod has facilitated this, and we will be sharing our knowledge about the design of the pod, and the process of implementing it in a gallery/science centre/museum setting.