A range of new, exciting and interactive exhibits have opened at Life. The new Wow Zone is part of a £1.5 million investment in the science centre.
Ben Gammon, an Audience Research and Interpretation Consultant, was part of the team that pioneered the project. Taking on the role of Content Lead, Ben was responsible for choosing the exhibits, devising the interpretation strategy, and working with designers to bring these ideas to life.
Following the successful launch of Wow Zone, we caught up with Ben on some of the project highlights.
“The power of the real.”
Ben said: “The real thing has an incredible capacity to enrich our understanding and inspire us.
“Seeing the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, or Nelson’s bullet-holed jacked at the Maritime Museum are uniquely powerful experiences. And this is also true of scientific phenomena. There is something special about feeling the insistent tug of a powerful magnetic field or seeing an electric current arc through a tube of plasma.
“Research suggests that this is a vital element of science education. It is not enough to only to learn the theories, laws and equations. To truly understand them, you also need to experience how they look, sound and feel. This is the power of the interactive exhibit. They provide visitors with the opportunity to manipulate real scientific phenomena.”
“A child in a sweetshop.”
“One of the hardest parts of developing the Wow Zone was reducing the long list of potential exhibits down to a short list that would fit the available space and budget. There are so many wonderful examples to choose from!
“We selected exhibits to provide a range and variety of experiences. Across the exhibition we cover light, sound, energy, electricity, magnetism, and forces. Some exhibits are whole body experiences; others are more contemplative. Some are open-ended exploratory experiences; others provide challenges to complete. Some are designed for use by just a couple of people, others for larger groups. All provide experiences that would be near impossible for people to replicate at home or in school. Most important of all, each exhibit provides visitors with access to real scientific phenomena, rather than an analogue or digital simulation; phenomena that visitors can manipulate.
“During the development process we applied lessons from 30 years of audience research to refine the design of each exhibit. This included prototype testing versions of some exhibits – magnetic sculpture, circuit workbench and the three counterbalance table activities – with visitors at Life. From that testing we were able to identify small but significant design tweaks that significantly enhanced visitors’ enjoyment and learning.”
“Words and pictures bring exhibits to life.”
“Every exhibit has its own specially designed label. An exhibit label is never going to be the highlight of someone’s visit, but they play a vital role in supporting visitors’ enjoyment and learning.
“For Wow Zone we wanted labels that would fulfil four key functions: provide basic instructions; convey some of the background science; suggest ways to explore the phenomenon more deeply; and illustrate how the science of the exhibit relates to visitors’ everyday lives.
“As well as text, we included a photograph illustrating an everyday application of the exhibit’s phenomenon – a famous arched bridge, a professional footballer kicking a ball down the field, a smartphone screen. Where possible we made these links relate to place, people, or industries in the North-East, for extra relevance.
“To support the written instructions, we commissioned the artist Sharon Armstrong to design an illustration for each label. The aim was to provide simple visual instructions that help visitors get started on their explorations. We also ensured that each illustration featured both children and an adult – a subtle way to encourage accompanying adults to take an active role in the experience.”
“After working on Wow Zone for two years, this January I finally got to see the completed exhibits installed in the exhibition. Looking at design drawings, prototypes and partially built versions in workshops just isn’t the same. There’s nothing like seeing something for real!”