Science centres – for conflict resolution, cooperation?

Can science centres – public facilities such as museums and exhibitions that explain and popularise science among the public – go beyond their technical role and take on more social and political roles?

Three case studies presented by Vincenzo Lipardi, director of Fondazione Idis-Citta della Scienza, at a session on advancing science in developing countries at ESOF 2010 on 3 July highlighted the expanding responsibilities of science centres.

A UNESCO project initiated in 2003 with Lipardi’s foundation and the University of Naples aimed to promote peace and dialogue in the conflict-torn Middle East, by setting up a science centre to promote collaboration in culture, education, research and technological innovation. The centre was set up in the campus of the Palestinian Al-Quds University and supported by the Bloomfield Science Museum and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Andreas and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies.

In 2004, Lipardi’s team undertook an initiative to set up a science centre in war-torn Baghdad, to make science and technology more accessible to all Iraqis; support the country’s educational system, which was destroyed during the war; and inspire Iraqi youth to take an interest in science.

In 2009, the Nigerian city of Owerri hosted the country’s first festival of science, to promote a scientific culture among Nigerians. There were interactive exhibitions on four themes – electricity and magnetism; energy, light and colour; and sound. Five outdoor workshops showcased issues closely linked to local culture – energy, environment, music, nutrition and health, and chemistry. The project also aimed to bring together politicians and the church.

Lipardi said: “Science centres can work as instruments to bring together differences in terms of culture, religion and life style”.

Amen, as Melchor Sanchez, a fellow panelist from the Vatican, would agree. Sanchez, too, sees a role for science centres in explaining science to theologists.

So that’s a lot on the platter for science centres right now.

T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net

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