I’m drinking a beer in Helsinki. It’s possibly one of the most expensive beers I’ve ever had. I’m deliberately not converting it into pounds for fear that I will run screaming into the night. I have had a lovely day and there is much to think about so perhaps this beer that must contain gold will help.
I visited Heureka today, a lovely chance to visit a science centre that is very open in how it operates and thinks – they are involved in many European projects, have submitted a really thoughtful article to the science centre magazine (yes, of course we have one!) and they are as open and lovely in person.
I had time to explore this morning which was lovely, although many of the exhibits were really intended for pairs or groups so I had to work around that. At one point I tried accosting another visitor to talk – but this isn’t very popular in Finland, they share the British reserve. I did encourage him to use the amazing coin engraving machine – who wouldn’t be happy to walk away with their own face on a coin, for FREE!!!
Chatting with the staff it became clear that they were all inspired by the notion of ‘a joyful discovery’ and used it to shape what they did in their work. Using cognitive dissonance in shows, unexpected elements in exhibits, adding more theatre to buses and wrapping it all up in a narrative. Really lovely to experience – even a cynical old hack like me got excited as I tried to hold a dry ice ‘cloud’. We discussed the notion of identity as I realized how easily staff talked about the history of the centre, not only did they know about how things were running now, but they were aware of how it had been done before and why. The centre has a clear identity that staff and visitors alike can experience.
I also had a chance to see the newest recruits to Heureka, a group of volunteers aged over 70 that have been recruited for a new exhibition starting this Autumn – Dialogue through Time (http://www.dialogue-with-time.com/) where they will be the experts. The subject matter has clearly struck a chord with southern Finland as Heureka received hundreds of applications and national media interest. This is the third exhibition aimed at developing empathy from audiences for others experiencing visual impairment, hearing impairment or in this case, simply age. And isn’t the first time that they have recruited specialists for an exhibition; when they were touring their Science Circus they made sure that local young people were brought in and trained to deliver the show and exhibits. These are the actions of a centre that cares about the place and people it serves. We all need to find more ways to do this.
And Heureka isn’t the only place to experience science in southern Finland, the University of Helsinki have a gorgeous little cafe called Think Corner (https://www.helsinki.fi/en/news/think-corner/what-is-think-corner) where you can encounter researchers (in a pretty broad spectrum of subjects) talking about their research, asking audiences what they think and even having a good old crafting session. How does that sound for an engaged and accessible university? They have an ambitious expansion programme for next year and it will be interesting to see if they can keep the amazing and intimate feeling of the current cafe in the new home.