Steven Berlin Johnson delivers ASTC 2008 keynote address

October 18th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Emily Schuster

Steven Berlin Johnson delivers the keynote addressJournalist and cultural critic Steven Berlin Johnson gave the keynote address at the ASTC Annual Conference in Philadelphia on October 18. His talk, entitled “Thinking Across Boundaries: Inspiration from The Ghost Map,”  drew upon his most recent bestselling book. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World tells the story of London’s 1854 cholera outbreak. Although most authorities at the time believed in miasma (the idea that disease was caused by smells), physician John Snow and vicar Henry Whitehead gathered evidence to support Snow’s idea that cholera was a waterborne illness. Their work ultimately led to the establishment of safe water supplies and helped make city life possible.

Johnson encouraged science centers to take several lessons from this story. First, he stressed the importance of not framing science as a “steady march upward,” but instead making the effort to “look at the history of mistakes,” such as miasma. He also encouraged science centers to pursue a way of thinking that he called “the long zoom,” which involves thinking across different scales. For example, he said that Snow looked at the epidemic on every scale “from microbe to metropolis.” Johnson also suggested that science centers can fill a role as places where new ideas like Snow’s can develop. “As a society, we have to recognize the importance of cultivating hunches,” he said. ”The history of ideas is filled with hunches that had leisure time to develop.”

About the image: Steven Berlin Johnson delivers the keynote address at the 2008 ASTC Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Dennis Wint receives ASTC Fellow Award

October 18th, 2008 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Christine Ruffo

Dennis Wint accepts ASTC Fellow AwardASTC presented its highest award today to Dennis Wint, president and chief executive officer of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Wint has served the Franklin Institute since 1995, but the museum community overall for over 35 years.

Prior to his work at the Franklin Institute, Wint served as president of the Saint Louis Science Center, Missouri; director of the Cranbrook Institute of Science, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; and vice president of Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. He is an active member of ASTC and has served the organization in a variety of capacities, including as co-chair of the Governance Committee, co-chair of the International Advisory Board, member of the Board of Directors, and president.

“ASTC is a far better, far stronger organization because of Dennis’ leadership and involvement over the years,” said ASTC executive director Bonnie VanDorn. “Dennis has always found a way to make sure that his institutions, ASTC, and the science center field as a whole stayed true to our roots and our mission. In many ways, I think of him as this organization’s ‘compass.’ If we start to lose our way, we can always turn to Dennis to get us pointed in the right direction again. We owe him a lot.”

The ASTC Fellow Award for Outstanding Contribution, first presented in 1974, is bestowed upon individuals who merit special recognition for their significant contributions to the advancement of public understanding and appreciation of science and technology or of ASTC itself.

About the image: Dennis Wint accepts the ASTC Fellow Award. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Measuring our carbon footprint

October 17th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Admin

Mary Ann Hitt As science center professionals began gathering in Philadelphia for the ASTC Annual Conference, participants from five continents took part in a day-long workshop, “Measuring Our Carbon Footprint and Fingerprints on Climate Change,” hosted by the Academy of Natural Sciences. ASTC’s International Action on Global Warming (IGLO) initiative invited representatives from various research institutions including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Goddard Space Flight Center, and Appalachia Voices. Speakers presented their latest findings in climate change research and discussed how science centers might best engage the public in learning about the accelerating influence of human activity on the environment.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change, discussed his research center’s in-depth polling on public perceptions of climate change in the United States. He noted that while most respondents perceived climate change as a problem, they ranked it as a low priority. “Americans still think,” explained Leiserowitz, “that climate change is going to happen somewhere very far away—a small island far away, but not here, not in my home.”

IGLO also formally unveiled a new National Science Foundation-funded project. Communicating Climate Change pairs 12 U.S. science centers with 12 research institutions across the country to survey public attitudes toward climate change, conduct public education, and foster participation by citizen scientists in real climate research. The project is headed by a collaborative effort between the Yale Climate Project and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

The workshop ended with a lively question-and-answer session where participants and presenters considered new media strategies for educating the public about climate change. Members of the audience were particularly interested in a planned tool of the Communicating Climate Change project, a web-based interactive map that will allow IGLO members and other science organizations to enter data on climate change in their own localities.

About the image: By videoconference, Mary Ann Hitt of Appalachian Voices details how her organization has used the Google Earth application to inform Internet users about mountain top removal. Photo by Christine Ruffo

Science center leaders attend ASTC Annual Conference in Philadelphia

October 17th, 2008 - Posted in Annual Conference by Christine Ruffo

The Franklin InstituteScience center professionals are beginnning to arrive in Philadelphia for the 2008 ASTC annual conference. For the next four days, over 140 conference sessions will challenge participants to explore their responsibility to both their scientific and public constituencies and ask: What role do we play in reflecting or supporting the views of these communities? How do we mediate the relationship between science and public audiences? Today, preconference workshops are addressing how science centers can better communicate climate change, build public forums for discussing science topics, and develop partnerships with public schools.

This afternoon, attendees are invited to join a “museum crawl,” organized by host museum the Franklin Institute, to local historical science museums—the Mütter Museum, Wagner Free Institute of Science, and Academy of Natural Sciences.

Communicating climate change

October 10th, 2008 - Posted in ASTC News, Featured, Partners by Wendy Pollock

Global warming demonstration at Museum of Discovery & Science, Fort Lauderdale, FloridaASTC has received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a three-year collaborative project entitled Communicating Climate Change. The grant, awarded by NSF’s Informal Science Education Program, will enable ASTC to advance the informal learning sector’s contribution to public engagement with climate science and the implications of global warming. Partners include the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Geophysical Union, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), and the Yale School of Forestry and Environment, as well as 12 science centers throughout the United States, each paired with a research center.

Each partnership will investigate a local outcome of climate change—such as loss of butterfly habitats—and involve the surrounding community in exploring reasons for and consequences of that change. The project will result in numerous tools for the informal science community, including model citizen science projects, an online interactive map of climate change research, and educational videos. Also part of the project is a national survey of public perceptions of and attitudes toward climate change.

Communicating Climate Change is a project of ASTC’s International Action on Global Warming (IGLO) initiative.

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