By Claire Bretherton, Curator Science, Museums Wellington
At Space Place we inspire our visitors to look up at the wonderful southern skies and to learn more about our unique place in the Universe. What better place to start than by turning our attention to our own planet, and to the effects our way of life is having on Earth’s future.
Could it end up like Venus, with a runaway greenhouse effect heating the planet to the temperature of an oven, or perhaps a frozen wasteland like our neighbouring red Mars? Antarctic science can provide vital clues to our planetary fate.
Over the July school holidays, Space Place was delighted to host Otago Museum’s Far from Frozen exhibition. The exhibition used the latest technology to bring Antarctica to life. Combined with examples of the polar equipment needed to survive and work on the seventh continent, profiles of Antarctic scientists, and hands-on, interactive exhibits, Far from Frozen allowed our visitors to explore the latest Antarctic science, to learn about our changing climate, and importantly, to gain a better understanding of the impact we are having on our home planet.
The exhibition was based on a Royal Society of New Zealand ‘Ten by Ten’ talk series by Victoria University scientists Tim Naish and James Renwick, called ‘Ten things you didn’t know about climate change‘. Naish and Renwick outlined ten facts that New Zealanders might not know about global warming, its impact on our oceans, climates and weather systems, both globally and locally, and how our actions have and will influence Earth’s future. You can read more about it here.
Far from Frozen was a fantastic opportunity to try something new at Space Place. We were able to open up a part of our building that is not normally visited by members of the public. We expanded our horizons in terms of content, moving away from outer space, to look at the science of our own planet. We also involved a variety of volunteers to help host the exhibition, including scientists involved with the Deep South National Science Challenge. These volunteers not only made sure that everything ran smoothly, but also provided an invaluable insight into the current, cutting edge research going on today.
The exhibition also provided the perfect backdrop to host a variety of different and exciting programmes, including Climate Conscious Cinema in the planetarium and two panel discussions on the science of Antarctica and climate change, and how we can adapt to it.
We have recently rearranged part of our galleries to open up the space a bit more, so we made good use of this new area with the Cool Science shows, held twice a day every weekday of the school holidays. This was another new initiative for the team and we wowed our younger visitors with exploding balloons, bubbling, colour changing chemical reactions, and a home made comet, all linked to the Far from Frozen exhibition.
So what did our visitors think?
Well first of all they voted with their feet. Space Place has seen its busiest July school holiday since we reopened in 2010, with over 7000 visitors through our doors. Over 100 visitors also filled in our feedback survey, and nearly 80% told us that they loved the exhibition (only 1 person didn’t like it), 62% that they learned a lot from it, and another 30% that they learned a little.
Nearly 98% said they would like to see the same amount or more about environmental issues in the future, and a similar proportion would like to see the same amount or more about astronomy/space science and other topics.
Particular highlights included the ‘cool new technologies’, the ‘great mix of movies, static displays & interactive, experiential options’, real scientists and the Cool Science show.
Overall, Far from Frozen was a great experience for all involved. The excellent feedback we have received from our visitors, the positive responses from our staff and volunteers, and the fantastic visitor numbers have inspired us to see our exhibitions and spaces in a new light, and I’m excited to see what we can do next.
Far from Frozen was developed by Otago Museum in association with Antarctica New Zealand, the University of Otago and the New Zealand Antarctic Research Institute with support from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment’s Unlocking Curious Minds fund, and was brought to Space Place with support from the Deep South National Science Challenge.