Calcutta plays host to the world
2nd Science Centre World Congress

By Bonnie VanDorn

Bonnie VanDorn is executive director of ASTC.

From January 11-15, Calcutta hosted the 2nd Science Centre World Congress (2SCWC)-a gathering of science center professionals from all over the world.

During the opening session, Saroj Ghose, former director of the Indian National Council of Science Museums, and chairman of 2SCWC, said that the conference was not about Indian science centers, "…but about all over the world. We want to learn from others. It's the purpose of our meeting." The Mayor of Calcutta, Shri Prasanta Chatterjee, also spoke at the opening, tracing science popularization in India back to 1959, when the Birla Industrial and Technological Museum opened in Calcutta. The chief guest at the opening, Professor Sankar Sen, state minister for power, science and technology, and non-conventional energy sources, stressed the need to integrate science with everyday concerns. "Thirty-five percent of Indian people lack good drinking water," he said. "Science centers should address the science that will meet the needs of the common people."

The celebrated science couple Phillip and Phylis Morrison delivered the keynote address. The two stressed the nature of scientific inquiry, and the need to press forward with research. "Science is inexact," said Phillip, "mostly because it is incomplete. Each discovery brings a new question." Phyllis added, "Being unsatisfied with one answer and going on-that is science." Professor Morrison further stated that science has two goals: "It tries to order the world and it adds new experience. Nothing is more true of science centers than they provide new experience-a different one for every individual."

At a session entitled "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants," R.M. Chakraborti recalled the history of the science center movement in India. It took less than four years to convert Science City-site of the World Congress-from a garbage dump into a major facility, complete with an outdoor science park. He went on to say that India had erected 27 science centers over the period 1978-1998. Chakraborti, former director of the Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai, also described the first steps in the now-vibrant movement. After the Birla Museum opened in 1959, the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum, Bangalore, opened in 1965. A national task force was then convened in the early 1970s to plan the future of science centers in India, resulting in the creation of the National Council of Science Museums in 1978. Chakraborti credited the Deutsches Museum, Munich, and Frank Oppenheimer, founder of the Exploratorium, San Francisco, as among the key influences in the development of science museums in India.

At another session, entitled "Our Brand New Science Centres," various directors of new science museums shared their experiences. Claude Benoit, director of Montreal Interactive Science Center, Quebec, Canada, spoke about the context for a major old port site redevelopment project and the challenges of providing a visitor experience that focuses on the changes that people are living in their daily lives. In addition, Gillian Thomas, director of Bristol 2000, England, defined the key elements of big projects-strong content for the idea, political and financial support, and a teamwork structure for delivery. Tapan Ganguly, director of Science City, described how the science center, which opened in 1997, is expected to operate without government support. According to Mr. Ganguly, the enterprise is to earn 60 percent of its revenue from the gate, and the rest from sponsorship and license fees.

Other sessions focused on exhibits, education, programs, Internet opportunities, international networks, community relevance, evaluation, and staff training. The conference also included demonstrations and workshops, and a cultural program that included magic shows, music, and dance.

Delegates hailed from 42 countries, including 49 from India, 54 from Europe, 30 from the U.S., 15 from Latin America, 12 from Malaysia, and 11 from China. Delegates came from as far away as South Africa, the Seychelles, and Barbados to Science City, site of the conference, on the outskirts of Calcutta.

The 3rd Science Centre World Congress will be held in Canberra, Australia, February 11-15, 2002.

For more information on 2SCWC
Science City, ph. (91) (33) 4343; web site www.ncsm.org.

For more information on 3SCWC
Michael Gore, director, Questacon - The National Science and Technology Centre, e-mail mike.gore@questacon.edu.au.

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