The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre Plan for Action 2, February 1985

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The Exploratory Interactive Science Centre

Plan for Action 2, February 1985
This version taken from original pages 1-15, 45-68

What is an Exploratory?
The EXPLORATORY is to attract and introduce people to principles of science and technology. Its impetus is the perhaps strange fact that only very few people understand, and fewer use, the methods of science for evaluating evidence or appreciate the living symbiosis of science and technology which has created our world.
The EXPLORATORY will be an exciting place where children and adults can explore the world of Science and Technology hands-on, with a variety of working exhibits, simple experiments and puzzles and games of many kinds – which will not only illustrate but reveal, sometimes in depth, phenomena of nature and the explanations of Science and its results in Technology. Some of the experiments and demonstrations will also allow one to find out quite a lot about oneself. Unlike the exhibits of a conventional museum, these are not just to be looked at – but to be used. For this reason, we call the exhibits 'Plores' – to be explored. The EXPLORATORY will be 'interactive', and not passive as are conventional museums. The visitors (the Explorers) will themselves take an active part, generating their own interest and enlightenment, as – like the activity of science itself – they play games against nature, end sometimes win.
Sections of this document describe in detail the aims and philosophy, the content and methods and the administration of the EXPLORATORY which now seeks substantial support, to be the effective pioneer in a development which promises to have major significance in this country.

The Origin of the Project.
The project is based on the highly successful Exploratorium, founded over fifteen years ago by the late Frank Oppenheimer, in San Francisco. The Exploratorium has inspired several interactive Science Centres in the United States and Canada: the EXPLORATORY will be the first hands-on Science Centre, together with the London Science Museum's Launch Pad gallery, in Britain.
The EXPLORATORY is the idea of Richard Gregory, head of the Brain and Perception Laboratory at the University of Bristol. Professor Gregory is well known for his work in the fields of visual perception and artificial intelligence, and also as one as the most efiective presenters of science to a general audience. (He gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1967-8, and has written several well-known books, including 'Eye and Brain', 'The Intelligent Eye', and 'Mind in Science'.) The nature of individual perception and understanding is an ideal subject for interactive methods and will be a central theme of the EXPLORATORY.

Initial Funding
The initiation of the project was made possible with a grant from the Nuffield Foundation. This financed a feasibility study, which was carried out in 1980. The Nuffield Foundation then provided a second grant, and with further support from the Carnegie Trust and one of the Sainsbury family Trusts, we were able to employ a Project Manager, an Administrator and several people on an ad hoc basis, to build about fifty Plores, initially for the three exhibitions that we have presented. This funding has also allowed us to rent premises for a workshop and administrative offices.

The Organisation.
The EXPLORATORY is a company limited by guarantee and has charitable status. It has a board of Trustees, who are advised by a distinguished Scientific Committee. This has recently been augmented by a Management Committee, which includes members with experience in financial matters and scientists and educationalists. The membership of the Trustees and the other Committees may be found in Appendix 6.
The centre of operations is a workshop, offices and a small Visitor Centre (3,000 sq. ft.) at 131 Duckmoor Road, Ashton Gate, Bristol. At present the staff is the Project Manager, Steve Pizzey, and Kate Tiffin who is the Administrator.

Exhibitions and Events
The Exploratory has been the subject of a number of press, radio and television features – starting from its first public demonstration at the annual British Association conference at the University of East Anglia in the summer of 1984. A collection of fifty or so 'Plores', which we designed and built, was on display and available for exploring for the five days of the British Association. This event received an enthusiastic response from the visitors, who ranged from school children to professional scientists, including at least two Nobel Prize winners. Since then two events in Bristol for non-scientific visitors – The Children's Festival October 1984, and an Exhibition at Watershed Multi-Media Centre in the City docks – have been received just as enthusiastically.
We learned a lot from a most successful Mathematical Weekend, at which thirty well known mathematicians shared their ideas for making mathematics understandable with working models, computer graphics, games and in other ways which we intend to develop.

The Immediate Aims and Development Strategy
From the outset the project has had the co-operation and support of the Bristol City Council. Through its good offices the EXPLORATORY has the opportunity to make its final home in 'C' Bond Warehouse – a large and magnificent building in the Cumberland Basin area of Bristol, on the river in the harbour. This option was set out in a previous report- Plan for ActionOne (1983) and it remains a long-term aim to take this building over and adapt it. This is a very ambitious project – which cannot be undertaken without setting up

a consortium of related activities and with an input from industry. Should this prove practicable, it will take at least three years. The Trustees are, however, anxious that the project should maintain its present momentum, and avoid losing the interest and goodwill that has been generated. The Trustees have, therefore, decided to plan the opening of the Exploratory in a less ambitious way: in about 10,000 sq, ft. in a remarkably suitable building, which has only recently become available – the historic broad-gauge engine shed of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway terminus of Temple Meads. Brunel's drawing office floor has been offered to us, on a short-term basis of 2-3 years, by the Brunel Engineering Trust. Our initial – once only – contribution will be £20,000. We will not have to pay for the repair or conversion of the premises, which are currently under way for the Brunel Engineering Trust. This seems, in every way, an ideal arrangement for starting the EXPLORATORY. Our Project Manager, Steve Pizzey, has done a first class job negotiating this arrangement. The estimated cost of getting the EXPLORATORY running at Temple Heads is a total of £370,000. A detailed description of the plans for opening the EXPLORATORY at Temple Meads are given immediately below in Section 3.

It is our firm intention that the EXPLORATORY will be self-supporting once established. We believe that it can cover its running costs from entrance charges and additional revenue generated by the shop and by events. The reasoning behind this belief is also given in Section 3 below.

The General Aims and Philosophy of the EXPLORATORY
Later appendices describe the background and aims of the project and give details – with captions and drawings – of the interactive exhibits ('Plores' for exploring) of the first British Association Exhibition exhibition. These represent the heart of the EXPLORATORY as it is now conceived and built. Here are pendulums and conic sections, gyroscopes and games with gravity, as well as illusions to remind us of our fallibilities.
Other Appendices discuss the working philosophy, and the interesting and by no means solved problems of how to present information and provide appropriate help for exploring for the wide age and education range of our visitors. Above all, the EXPLORATORY will be an enjoyable experience, and a stimulating introduction for understanding Science and Technology and appreciating what they have to offer, now and in the future. This must be achieved without intimidating people who have not (at least before their first visit I) seen what makes science interesting – and how its principles live all around us, unseen in our every-day technology.

Although sections of this document have of necessity – because they cover very different technical matters from finance to philosophy – been written by different hands (and we trust brains), the document represents the collective aims and ideas of the EXPLORATORY Trustees and Managers, who have discussed it in detail and have contributed in very many substantial ways. The authorships (indicated with initials referring to the author list on the index page) are individual responsibilities, according to special knowledge and interest, within the collective wisdom of the EXPLORATORY’s Trustees and Managers, who have taken on and accept shared responsibility for guiding this project with imagination and responsibility.

Science and technology have throughout history gone hand in hand, raising us from our biological origins to made man a unique species, with a life and a culture of his own which has no parallel in nature. Whatever their shortcomings, science linked with technology are the most successful of all co-operative human endeavours. Their discoveries and inventions are incomparably useful (though unless we understand them, correspondingly dangerous) and they arc uniquely intellectually satisfying – while always leading to new questions and further possibilities. But for too many people, surely, science and technology are remote and even hostile, perhaps because they seem too difficult even to begin to understand. We believe that the facts and fancies of Science can be made accessible to most people – children and adults – and that the best way to do this is by exploring for oneself; with help, a minimum of hassle, and a lot of excitement and fun which will bc found in the EXPLORATORY.
The EXPLORATORY is to attract and introduce people to principles of science and technology. One might ask – is this necessary? It is, for most people are blind to the explanations that science offers and do not appreciate how even their own possessions work. For example only very people can answer questions such as: 'What is an electron? – a Proton – a Molecule?' Or, 'What holds the Moon up?' 'Why is the sky blue – and why are bubbles coloured?' 'How long does light take to reach us from the sun? – From the most distant object visible to the naked eye (2,000,000 years)? Or 'What is 'Natural Selection'' Or 'How are ball bearings made accurately spherical’?' 'Why are we right-left reversed in a mirror?' 'Why is a refrigerator cold – and a flame hot?'
Although few educated people can answer such questions, or use the methods of science for evaluating evidence, there is general agreement that this is unfortunate. A recent Gallup Poll (published in New Scientist, 21st. Feb. 1985) reports that 86% of the general population thinks that, 'Everyone should have some science education up the age of 16’; and 76% that, 'Politicians should know more about science and its applications.' It seems, however, that there is considerable fear of science, for even apart from military applications, 73% think that, 'Scientific discoveries can have very dangerous effects.' And opinion on whether 'science and technology do more harm than good' is about equally divided.
Undoubtedly science is dangerous; but so is lack of it, and so is ignorance. Here everybody loses, and administrators lacking appreciation of technical issues can lose their way, to run into dangers of losing their firms and the rest of us an awful lot of money, and perhaps worse disaster. And 'merely' academically' – the culture in which we live becomes distorted unless the contributions of science and technology are appreciated. Much of recorded history is distorted by 'filtering out' technology and its effects, as happens for many historians are blind to their significance; even though science and technology are ratchets, producing hopefully 'upward' irreversible changes. By contrast, most of recorded history is more-or-less random movements across essentially arbitrary political borders, yet this claims far more attention than the human-long dramatic saga of discovery and invention.
Even stranger: most of us, as adults, cannot answer the simplest questions of science, or of how things work, though children continually experiment, while playing. They learn a wonderful lot in a very few years including, most miraculously, language. But generally this learning slows and almost stops at adolescence, when for many people curiosity is dulled. Why this is so is mysterious – and of course it doe not apply to everyone. How many of us, though, know how the most familiar for gadgets work? For example, how their front door key turns the lock – and only with their key and not thousands of others looking almost the same. Ways of making locks recognise particular keys is a technology known to the Romans; yet few of us appreciate how locks and keys work, though we use them every day, which is surely a pity as mechanisms are much more than bits-and-pieces of metal: they embody principles of nature combined by human intelligence to solve our problems. Largely unnoticed, they are our richest inheritance.
If we know how to look we can see – for example in a humble lock and key – not only mechanical processes of bearings, levers and stops but also more abstract principles, such as general statistical principles, which apply to the courtship behaviour of birds (and perhaps people) and to the immune system (which goes wrong with AIDS), as well as the immensely difficult pattern-recognition problem that, though we are unaware of it, confronts the eye every moment of the day. Then, in a device such as a lock, there are all sorts of manufacturing solutions such dimensional tolerances; for if the key were a precise fit it would never work, as it expands with the heat of one's pocket, and the critical parts wear gust slightly every time it is used.
So, in this one example it is possible to see a wealth of design principles as laws of physics, and of statistics, all brought together in a simple mass-produced package which is designed to fill a human need. But to see how it works, it may be is necessary to open the lock and play with it, and take it to pieces. This is the essential point of the hands-on interactive approach to presenting science and technology in the EXPLORATORY – to continue children's exploration of the world and themselves into adult life so that the adventure of discovering never ceases.
There is plenty of evidence that our abilities to see and understand – which are closely linked – develop from infancy by actively handling and interacting with objects. Also, by playing games, and accepting challenges of new possibilities. A dramatic experiment showing how we see depends upon active touch was carried out at the end of the last Century by an American psychologist, G. M. Stratton, who turned his world upside down with reversing goggles. He wore these every day for several weeks. After a week or two, he found that his brain would correct for the reversing goggles, but only when he actively touched and handled objects. Unexplored objects would remain upside-down for many weeks. Then there are cases of people born blind, or becoming blind in infancy, recovering sight when adult by operations on their eyes. In some cases they can see, immediately after the operation, things they already know by touch. They remain effectively blind to untouched things for many months or even years. These they have to learn to see with great difficulty. To appreciate the importance of learning-by-doing – imagine learning to ride a bicycle which is in a glass case, and can only be controlled by push buttons! One has to fall off, to learn.
Although the EXPLORATORYseum will be the first hands-on Science centre in Britain, apart from the Science Museum’s Launch Pad gallery, many of its principles have been working for years in the late Frank Oppenheimer’s pioneering Exploratorium in San Francisco, and in several interactive Science and Technology Centres in America and Canada. There arc now about a hundred, though some have specialised activities and are not fully 'hands-on’. They are linked by the flourishing Association of Science-Technology Centers 'ASTC', which produces informative publications especially: 'Exploring Science: A Guide to Contemporary Science and Technology Museums’. (Available from ASTC, 1016 16th. Street NW, Washington DC, 20036.) This outlines the widely different aims, and gives the vltal statistics of Science Museums and 'Experience Centres' all over America. There are also affiliated institutions in other countries, among the most ambitious and successful being the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto. Here we are looking at a rapidly growing industry with a total operating budget of the ASTC members in 1977 of $94,791,000. Two years later, 1979, this became $120,051,000. The annual number of visitors for 1977 was 34,355,000 which rose, by 1979, to 37,582,000. We do not have later figures, but these could well have doubled now by 1984, for this is truly a growth industry in the States. A current estimate is 40,000,000 visitors this year.
Some of these Science Museums and Experience Centres are specialised to a region’s, or sometimes the founder's particular interest. For example, Miami’s Plant Ocean has theme areas including continental drift and 'water as a chemical’. Health, energy, and astronomy based on a planetarium and sometimes a Space Centre are favourite specialisations. Thus the Hall of Life in Denver Colorado has the slogan 'Discover health for yourself', with the aim of preventing illness by increasing knowledge and suggesting rules for healthy living. The Technological Museum in Mexico City specialises in electrical and other forma of energy. A pioneer Space Sciences museum, which also has a general hands-on science room, is the splendid Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Centre in San Diego. Most Centres cater for adults and children, and they tend to be visited by families on a day trip. Some cities have a Children’s Museum or 'Experience Center’: notably the Children’s Museum at Boston; the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, which emphasises hands-on activities, and the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis which has life-sized dinosaurs and a Victorian railway depot with a 55 ton wood-burning locomotive, with various events arranged through the year. So there is plenty of variety over there.

Plores for Exploring
The word 'explore', from which we derive our name the EXPLORATORY, has the Latin root 'explorare' – to search out. Although 'exploratory' is not given as a noun in the O.E.D. there no reason why it should not be accepted as a noun, by analogy with familiar words derived from activities such as 'Observatory' and 'Laboratory'. Just so, 'Exploratory' is the noun of the activity of searching out or exploring. 'Exploratory' is closely related to the American 'Exploratorium' but it is simpler and it is already familiar in English, though not as a noun. The name EXPLORATORY reflects due deference to Frank Oppenheimer’s pioneering Exploratorium, while the difference guards against confusion.
'Plore' is coined because there is no existing word having the required meaning. The equivalent museum words 'Demonstration', 'Working Model', 'Artefact', or the most commonly used, 'Exhibit' (which one may note can be used as a noun or a verb) are far too passive in meaning and specifically associated with passive viewing; but we wish to include the touching, handling and generally active exploration which is the essence of the EXPLORATORY. So we call our hands-on models, experimental apparatus, puzzles and games-against-nature 'Plores' – to be explored in the Exploratory by Explorers.
Justification for our coined word 'Plore' is undoubtedly controversial, though we note with some pleasure that it is becoming generally accepted. It is derived from 'Exploratory' by extraction of the second syllable – Exploratory – with the addition of the final 'e' to make it a respectable English word. (Plore puns are a hazard. The workshop is the Plorabunda, which will become rich with the spoils of time as full many a Plore is born – surely not to blush unseen!)

The Design of Plores – with Examples
Plores, for exploring, may be extremely simple or they may be complex examples of technology. We shall concentrate at least as a start on Plores which, though simple and generally inexpensive, are intriguing. Some produce a genuine gasp of surprise, with a dawning insight of understanding which can illuminate whole area of a person's mind. This, in turn, can induce a sense of confidence which is individually and socially rewarding. It is particularly pleasing when one sees this happening to a visitor as he or she plays (almost like a child) with a model or puzzle, perhaps of wood and string, which illustrates a novel aspect of nature or the nurture of our technology. We have seen this happening particularly with the 'Pendulum Plores’.
The Pendulum Plores stand about two feet high and have fishing-line strings supporting swinging bobs, which are small magnets. These allow the swing to be self-maintained, for any amplitude or frequency, with an unobtrusive electronic system which senses the arrival of the bob and gives it a discreet boost. The swinging pendulums make a lively sight. They attract visitors who can set the length of the string to change the frequency, and vary the mass of the bob (by putting weights in a swinging scale pan) and so discover the essential laws which led Kepler, and later Newton, to appreciate the principles by which Earth and planets move. They give a feel for effects of mass, inertia, friction (because of the need for the self-maintaining system) and they at once relate to the fascinating history and technology of clocks. Further (we believe that this is novel to the EXPLORATORY), we vary the maintaining force – essentially gravity – to translate a pendulum to the Moon or another planet,. When a strip magnet is placed under the magnetic bob it attracts the bob and the pendulum speeds up – as though it were. affected by the gravitational pull found on a massive planet. When the magnet is reversed, the frequency falls – as for a pendulum on the moon. This asymmetry between changing the mass of the bob (by adding or subtracting weights), which has no affect on the frequency, and effectively changing gravity which does affect it, may suggest all sorts of implications. Some of these may be made explicit by further Plores. Or the pendulums may stand alone. Such choices determine how the EXPLORATORY will grow, and its growth will depend on what we learn from our visitors.
The various EXPLORATORY events we have organised to date have not only provided welcome publicity for the project, but they also have a more serious purpose. The EXPLORATORY is a new idea, at least in this country, and this method of presenting science and technology to a wide public is essentially untried. These events provided an opportunity to observe people’s responses and to test out new ways of presenting ideas, ways of thinking, and revealing how things work. The exhibitions, and comments of visitors to the Duckmoor Road premises, are valuable for tuning the Exploratory philosophy to people’s interests and needs. So they are, in effect, a proving ground. Already we have learned a great deal about the robustness and effectiveness as the Plores (nonce of the pendulum strings got broken!), and about the fascinating and not altogether predictable ways in which people react to this new approach to finding out about the world, and something of themselves. We have a great deal more to learn, and indeed the processes of testing and modifying the Plores – and creating new plores – will continue through the entire life of the EXPLORATORY.

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