Quantum Levitation

October 26th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

At first, you can’t believe your eyes. Is the magnet really levitating, you wonder?

But while this demonstration of quantum levitation by Tel-Aviv University’s Superconductivity Group, shot during the recent ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore looks like something that Harry or Hermione may have conjured up, there is true physics behind it. To date, this video has gotten more than 5 million hits on YouTube and been featured in media outlets all across the globe.

Watch the video below, and for an explanation of how quantum levitation works, visit www.quantumlevitation.com/QuantumLevitation/The_physics.html. For more information on Tel-Aviv University’s Superconductivity Group, contact Dr. Boaz Almog at boazal@gmail.com.

ASTC 2012 heads to Columbus!

October 18th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference by Larry Hoffer

It may be merely minutes after the official closing of the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year!

ASTC 2012 will be hosted by COSI in Columbus, Ohio, and held October 13-16, 2012.

What’s in store for 2012? Check out COSI’s preview video!

And to get a jump on next year, you can submit a session proposal for 2012 completely online. Check out the Call for Proposals!

See you in Columbus!

Photo courtesy COSI

The passing of the gavel: Seidl becomes ASTC president

October 18th, 2011 - Posted in ASTC News, Annual Conference, Featured by Larry Hoffer

At the close of ASTC’s 2011 Annual Conference in Baltimore on Tuesday, October 18, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry President and CEO Nancy Stueber, who has served as ASTC’s president for the last two years, passed the gavel to the Association’s new president, R. Bryce Seidl, president and CEO of the Pacific Science Center, Seattle. Seidl formerly served as ASTC’s secretary/treasurer.

“Coming out of this conference, I am even more energized about the power and potential of ASTC to help our members and partners move the world forward on science and science education,” Seidl remarked.

Joining Seidl as board officers are: Chevy Humphrey, president and CEO, Arizona Science Center, Phoenix, who will serve as secretary/treasurer; Linda Conlon, chief executive, International Centre for Life, Newcastle Upon Tyne, United Kingdom, who will serve as vice president; Joanna Haas, executive director, Louisville Science Center, Kentucky, who will serve as member-at-large; and Stueber, who assumes the position of immediate past president.

Two board members—Dennis Bartels, executive director of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and Ann Fumarolo, president and CEO of SciPort: Louisiana’s Science Center in Shreveport—were re-elected to a second term. Four new board members were also elected: Nohora Elizabeth Hoyos, executive director, Maloka, Bogota, Colombia; Neville Petrie, CEO, Science Alive! The New Zealand Science Centre, Christchurch; Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director, Wild Center, Tupper Lake, New York; and Barry Van Deman, president and CEO, North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, Durham.

ASTC board members not up for re-election this year include: Linda Abraham-Silver, president and executive director, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland, Ohio; David Chesebrough, president and CEO, COSI, Columbus, Ohio; Joseph Hastings, executive director, Don Harrington Discovery Center, Amarillo, Texas; Ronen Mir, general director, MadaTech: Israel National Museum of Science, Haifa; David Mosena, president and CEO, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago; and Carol Valenta, senior vice president, Saint Louis Science Center, Missouri. Those individuals whose terms have ended include Immediate Past President Lesley Lewis, Ontario Science Centre, Toronto; Member-at-Large Erik Jacquemyn, Technopolis, the Flemish Science Center, Mechelen, Belgium; Graham Durant, Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, Canberra, ACT, Australia; and Charlie Trautmann, Sciencenter, Ithaca, New York.

Getting better and better

October 18th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

Adrienne BarnettHow can science centers and museums work to welcome and include all audiences? A group of museum practitioners convened on Tuesday, October 18, at the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore to hear how science centers are working with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities.

The first presenter in the session, entitled “Diversity in Practice: Case Studies in Increasing Equity in Museums,” was Eric Godoy of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Godoy detailed several initiatives, ranging from silly (hosting a “Tranimal Drag Contest”—the winner wore an anglerfish costume) to the serious (producing a video as part of the It Gets Better Project to provide hope for LGBT youth facing bullying).

As Adrienne Barnett of the Exploratorium in San Francisco took the floor, she explained, “Eric and I have a friendly rivalry to make our institutions as LGBT-friendly as possible. When I saw the California Academy had an It Gets Better video, I thought, obviously, the Exploratorium has to do one.” Upper management and staff immediately and overwhelmingly supported Barnett’s idea. According to Barnett, the making of the video “was a huge, pivotal moment in history of the Exploratorium. It showed that we have acceptance throughout the institution.” The Exploratorium has had domestic partner policies for staff in place for 12 years and uses inclusive language (such as “spouse” and “partner,” rather than “husband” and “wife”) in materials for its staff and the public.

Next, Kevin Seymour described the LGBT-inclusion efforts of COSI, Columbus, Ohio, which began more recently with a visitation survey in 2009. The center now partners with a local youth center and participates in the Columbus Pride Festival.

Finally, session leader Timothy Hecox of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland described joining OMSI’s diversity workgroup, which has reaching out to the LGBT community among its goals. On November 7, OMSI will host its first family science night geared specifically for LGBT families. “To my knowledge, this [will be] the largest event for this specific community that’s ever happened in Portland,” Hecox said. He also plans to form an ASTC Community of Practice to support diversity committees and workgroups in science centers and museums.

Following the presentations, the participants split into small groups to create their own action plans for serving LGBT audiences or other diverse communities.

About the photo: The Exploratorium’s Adrienne Barnett. Photo by Christine Ruffo

A lively debate on the value of evaluation

October 17th, 2011 - Posted in Annual Conference by Emily Schuster

At the 2011 ASTC Annual Conference in Baltimore, a session entitled “Exhibit Evaluation: Useless Bureaucratic Hurdle or Valuable Tool?” sparked a particularly spirited discussion. The session had its origins in a provocative post  on ASTC’s listserv (ISEN-ASTC-L) in January.

Held Monday, October 17, the session was moderated by Sam Taylor of Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It began with a series of five-minute presentations addressing the question of evaluation’s value.

First, Dave Ucko, formerly of the U.S. National Science Foundation, highlighted evaluation’s usefulness in providing accountability to the federal government, adding to our knowledge base, continuing to professionalize the field, and strengthening projects.

Next, Charlie Carlson of San Francisco’s Exploratorium (who emphasized that his statements do not reflect the position of his institution) pointed out that there are lots of exhibits that have succeeded without formal evaluation. “[Evaluation] does not directly result in a memorable, positive visitor experience,” he said.

Martin Weiss of the New York Hall of Science in Queens disagreed, calling evaluation “extremely important,” but asserting that “our profession has to strive to make evaluation better and more usable.”

As the sole independent evaluator on the panel, Ellen Giusti remarked, “Charlie says we know when an exhibit is popular. Popularity is not always the key to success.” She stressed the value of evaluation in determining whether an exhibition’s goals have been met, and also reminded the audience that lessons learned from one project can be applied to the next.

Finally, Paul Orselli of Paul Orselli Workshop (POW!) in Baldwin, New York, discussed the importance of having internal capacity for both exhibition development and evaluation, as well as the need to diversify evaluation. “We’ve sort of built up what I would characterize as evaluation monoculture,” he said. “I wonder if we could widen the view of notions of evaluation, so real physical prototyping becomes a more valued part of this, and exhibit people become more truly part of a partnership [with evaluators].”

Next the question was put to the crowd, which included exhibit developers, evaluators, and other professionals from around the world. An impassioned debate ensued. Here are some comments from this discussion:

• “Peer evaluation in some safe setting—a discourse about what’s worked and what hasn’t—would be more useful than professional evaluators’ feedback.”

• “Evaluation has tilted toward how people are changed after seeing an exhibition. There’s not enough emphasis on what people do and see in the exhibition…That’s why people go to museums, not because they [ask themselves], ‘What are the cognitive outcomes our kids will have?’”

• “Evaluation is one way to learn about what we do and the effect of what we do on our visitors—one way to learn about our own practice. I view it as a learning tool, and that keeps me going because I don’t know everything and I never will.”

• “I think evaluation should be like a visit from the health department to a café. They can show up at any time and gather information. It ought to be that the Spanish Inquisition can descend on your exhibition and really give you a bad time. That would be much more exciting.”

• “In evaluations, it’s easy to learn about all the things the project achieved, but you really have to squint to see what failed. We should put a book together of failed projects—that’s how the field advances.”

• “If you want future funding, the only way to get it is to have positive report. I find that very problematic. [It makes it] difficult to actually get honest evaluations.”

• “It should be a requirement that 10% of exhibit project money is left after the exhibit opens so you can actually go back and do remedial work to make it a truly great exhibit.”

• “You can’t measure everything that matters and everything that matters can’t necessarily be measured.”

• “If you just toss out the first idea you have and it works, congratulations…but it helps to have an outside person to say, ‘Let’s walk through the data. What do we have to do to make that work?’”

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