Most of the science museums in Cambridge are like the Sedgwick museum I wrote about a few weeks ago: very interesting, and full of things to look at, but mainly historic and academic. They celebrate science as things that have been done before. What Cambridge doesn’t have is a more educational and hands-on museum about science. But not for long: on February 8, the Cambridge Science Centre will open a small exhibition space, filled with interactive displays, in a temporary location in the centre of Cambridge. It’s the birth of a new science museum.
Ultimately, the Cambridge Science Centre hopes to find a larger, more permanent space, but for the next few years they’ve taken over the space of a former shop with levers, pulleys, buttons, sounds and lights.
I’d never really considered how new science museums are formed until I met the team behind the Cambridge Science Centre last year. They didn’t have a space at the time, but they had movable exhibit tables, each with a different theme, and they took them around to show people what they were planning to build. They took a few of the exhibits to SciBarCamb, an event for the Cambridge science and science communication community that I co-organised, and let the other attendees play around with it to see what we thought of it.
Over the past months, the science centre team didn’t just show the exhibits to other science communication people, but also to potential funders, to researchers who might want to collaborate with the museum, and to children, parents, and educators. Part of this trial run of exhibits was to get feedback on the displays: is the message clear, is it easy to use, is it fun? Another part was to demonstrate to stakeholders what the goal of the museum would be.
Promo video for the museum, shot at the Cambridge Science Festival in 2012, where the same transportable displays were used to demonstrate the concept of the museum.
With this approach, they have now secured a small space for a few years, where the exhibits will be on display full-time. It’s a proper science museum, on boutique scale.
I got a sneak peek of the new space a few weeks ago, when volunteers were still busy setting everything up. Some of the exhibit tables were not set up yet, and all the walls looked bare. In the middle of the room was a table full of boxes and papers, and further down was a table with drinks and snacks for the volunteers.
But in between the chaos, I could clearly see a budding museum. There was a display on how to build a bridge and another one that showed what eyes are made of, but on a larger scale the whole room was an example of how to build a science centre!
I recognized some of the exhibits from my first encounter with them at SciBarCamb, and it already felt like my second visit, even though the museum wasn’t even officially open yet. I’ll try to pop in before I leave Cambridge, or else on my next visit to town, to see what the next growth stage of a science centre looks like.