The making of a science centre

Coming soon to the TU Delft campus: an educational yet entertaining centre showcasing all the best scientific and technological research the university has to offer. Science Centre Delft intends to ‘Wow’ its visitors with a combination of hard science and fun and games.

With its doors set to officially open in a matter of months, Science Centre Delft is currently a hotbed of activity, as architects, designers, engineers and students work against the clock to get everything ready for the grand opening. Meanwhile, amid all this activity, the centre is also already testing several developed games and exhibits on groups of Dutch secondary school students. Located on the Mijnbouwstraat, Science Centre Delft will exhibit TU Delft’s best scientific and technological innovations and research, while also aiming to be a premier regional scientific education centre for local school children. The centre is however ultimately intended to be a fascinating place to visit for people of all ages, a place where the general public, students and scientists meet and share and revel in the wonders of scientific discovery.  

Grand plans, but will this new centre manage to attract sufficient numbers of visitors in a way that the TU’s former Technology Museum failed to do? To learn more about the centre’s plans, we first spoke to Alex Lokhorst (35), who is responsible for Science Centre Delft’s marketing sales & communication.

Alex Lokhorst:What can we see at the Science Centre Delft?“The exhibition hall will have three spaces: ‘Amazing Technology’, ‘4D Film Studio’ and ‘Working Space’. In ‘Amazing Technology’, where TU Delft’s state-of-the-art technology will be displayed, visitors are expected to experience the ‘Wow’ effect. The ‘4D Film Studio’ will show short films about five scientists and their work. ‘Working Space’ meanwhile will offer visitors an opportunity to build and design things themselves, as we believe this hands-on experience will be the best way to wrap up your tour of the Science Centre.”

What is the centre’s main mission?“Interaction, inspiration and creativity are our core principles. The centre is a platform, and we aim to use TU Delft research to inform our visitors of the role of science and technology in society.”

There are other scientific educational centres and museums around the country, so what makes Science Centre Delft unique?“All the exhibits at our centre are based on TU Delft research. You don’t see such cooperation at other centres, like Nemo in Amsterdam. We’ll also be unique in encouraging our visitors to actively engage in the research and design taking place here.”

Indeed, the centre makes science seem fun. But playing with science is different from actually conducting real, difficult scientific research. How do you plan to avoid simply creating an illusion?“When research is still in the lab, it’s very fundamental and there’s no showcase around it. That’s why we have a team of architects and engineers here to redesign it to make it fun, such as introducing touch screens or making it into a serious game. We also want to make the process of conducting scientific research visible to our visitors, so we intend to invite students and scientists to bring their research projects here.  In that case, when you walk around the Science Centre, you might become interested in what they’re doing, sit next to them, ask questions. Such interaction with the people working behind the science will give visitors greater insights into science.”

How are you marketing Science Centre Delft?“We don’t think it’s the time for large-scale promotion yet, so we’re currently keeping it ‘beneath the radar’, as we say. We recently started a weblog, ‘The Making of Imagination’, which tracks everything happening here through pictures and video. It’s updated weekly, and so far we’ve had lots of visitors. They all help us spread the word.”

One part of Science Centre Delft’s marketing plan is to use social media for communication purposes. Roelof van den Berg (24), an MSc student studying science communication, is developing a communication plan for the centre targeted at kids aged 9-16. Van den Berg explained the thinking behind his research.

Roelof van den Berg:Why social media? “In terms of reaching large groups of people, social media is very powerful; but more importantly, social media provides a platform where people can engage in lots of interaction, which we aim to create between the Science Centre and our target audience. But when using social media you also need to be careful, because people may find it annoying when their private social media space is approached for marketing purposes.”

What’s the idea behind your communication plan for the centre?“The main idea is interpersonal influence. In my plan, I start with kids who are both early innovation adopters and enthusiastic scouts. I then expect them to influence the other kids, so that it works like a chain reaction.”

Besides exhibits, the Science Centre is also collaborating with secondary schools to offer educational programmes. Aart Verbaas (22), an MSc student in science education, is currently working together with a fellow team member at the faculty of Applied Physics to design a workshop that Dutch high school students will attend next June. He shared his thoughts on trying to captivate young minds through science.

Aart Verbaas:How would you describe your approach to designing this workshop?“Our goal is to make the workshop surprising and trigger the students’ interest in physics. So, stimulating, challenging and hands-on experience are the three principles we’re following. One example is ferro-fluid, which is a fluid containing magnetic particles. The school kids can then use their creativity to make nice sculptures out of this fluid.”

De studenten zijn onder meer bang dat de overheveling van 100 miljoen euro onderzoeksgeld van de eerste naar de tweede geldstroom zal uitpakken als een bezuiniging op het onderwijs.

“Onderzoekers die hun geld niet meer van hun eigen instelling krijgen, maar via NWO, besteden minder tijd aan onderwijs”, zegt woordvoerder Ineke Roeling van Rouw.

“Bovendien zijn jonge onderzoekers vaak minder goed in lesgeven dan oudere docent-onderzoekers voor wie bij de universiteiten minder geld is.”

De studenten willen dat de 100 miljoen euro wordt gecompenseerd via de eerste geldstroom. Daarnaast willen ze een structurele investeringsagenda voor het hoger onderwijs.

Daarnaast signaleren ze dat sinds de jaren 90 de overheidsfinanciering van hbo en universiteiten daalt ten opzichte van het aantal studenten die worden opgeleid. Tussen 1995 en 2007 steeg het aantal studenten met 20 procent, terwijl de rijksbijdrage met slechts 4 procent groeide.

Ook in de OESO-cijfers zakt Nederland volgens Rouw. Nederland besteedt 5 procent van het nationale inkomen aan onderwijs, waar ander landen op 6 procent zitten.

De protestactie begint maandag om 14.30 uur op Den Haag CS. Van daar wordt gelopen naar het Plein, waar om 16.00 uur het manifest wordt aangeboden aan de minister.