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June 28, 2008

Evolution greenhouse: horticultural and educational

A recent and long overdue visit to Kew Gardens (mainly because we couldn't resist the concept of the Treetop Walkway, which was by the way a lot tamer than I was expecting… ) lead me to visit the Evolution House, a greenhouse given over to a film set depicting plant evolution. At the entrance are maps (here's a close-up) tracing the path of plant evolution. You enter in the Precambrian era, surrounded by sloping 'basalt rocks' and glowing hot 'lava' underneath (nice effects!) and bubbling mud puddles (real mud, fun!).

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After that, life begins and the rest of the greenhouse walk snakes through a seriously dramatic evolution landscape with dinosaur tracks, towering crazy trees (horsetails, ferns etc.), sheer 'rock' faces, various forest sounds and waterfalls; very entertaining, if a little tight (bit unfair to compress 3500 million years of plant evolution in a such a moderately sized greenhouse…). Luckily, you emerge back in the present era at the other end.

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January 20, 2008

Playing at being kids

After Katherine's visit to the Science Museum before Christmas, I thought I'd post about mine last week. Katherine saw a team of science show presenters who came out of the museum's kids galleries but now perform adult-orientated content. My trip was similar, and organised by the same 'Dana Centre' part of the museum: an adult's only evening for the newly refurbished Launch Pad gallery.

I enjoyed it (notes under the cut), but I'd be interested to know what other people think about this repackaging of kids-science for grown ups? I wonder if science popularisation is, in places, hued with a slightly childish aesthetic? Not everywhere and everything (not Dawkins and Greene et al); I'm thinking more about references to science fiction or chemistry set explosions (I wonder how many adults watch Brainiac?).

I'd already visited the new Launch Pad, and on the whole, I like it. There is a whole history to interactives in science museums, which the London Science Museum has been strongly involved in. I can bore for Britain on this topic, but I'll spare you that. Suffice to say that the new Launch Pad is the museum's fourth incarnation of the gallery, and with it I felt they'd gone back to its roots. I really liked that, but then I admit to being a fan of Exploratorium-style exhibits, and I do wonder if its a good thing museum design hasn't found much new since the 70s. It really worked for the adults only event, as most of us were young enough to have been to the first (or second) versions of Pad; but maybe there should be something new for our own kids? This isn't a rhetorical question, I genuinely don't know - I wonder if these issues fit into the nostalgic tenancies of education, especially science education?

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