Hands-on science made more accessible

TAMLYN STEWART
Last updated 05:00 23/01/2012
BIG IMPROVEMENT: Science Alive! chief executive Neville Petrie says going mobile has exposed more students to the organisation's programmes.
DON SCOTT/ Fairfax NZ

BIG IMPROVEMENT: Science Alive! chief executive Neville Petrie says going mobile has exposed more students to the organisation's programmes.

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After the Science Alive! premises were damaged in the February earthquake, the interactive science centre went mobile – and that has led to a 25 per cent increase in the number of students taking part in its workshops.

Following damage to the charitable trust's premises in the old railway station in Moorhouse Ave, Science Alive! moved into office and warehouse space in Sydenham.

Engineering reports on the railway station building have been submitted to its insurer for review, and a result was expected in early February.

The company owns 6000 square metres of the building and Grand Ltd, which owns the side occupied by Hoyts Cinema, has 11,000sq m.

Chief executive Neville Petrie said the organisation had to change the way it operated, from attracting people to its building, to presenting programmes to schools and libraries.

"We are able to take those programmes out into the school and pack up at the end of the lesson and come back to work or go on to the next school."

In the past, about 15,000 students would visit the Science Alive! centre each year.

Now, the number of students taking part in Science Alive! lessons and activities has risen. It was 25 per cent higher from February to September last year than the same period the year before. Going out to schools and libraries made Science Alive! hands-on science learning programmes more accessible, Petrie said.

"The earthquake has been quite devastating for us ... But it has also created some opportunities to try some new things and get out to the community a bit more and have a bigger impact.

"We've had to purchase another van because the demand for our education programmes has been far in excess of what we had expected."

Science Alive! also designs, builds and exports science exhibits – and since the quake there has been a flurry of demand for earthquake-type exhibits. It is sending a set of five exhibits to a gallery in Singapore, and has received enquiries from a museum in Yemen for an "earthquake seat" which simulates the shaking.

"We're getting enquiries from all over the place for exhibits to be built relating to earthquakes," Petrie said.

While the mobile model was working well, Petrie said the organisation would probably be looking for a new building at some stage.

The organisation is lobbying for a new national science centre to be set up in Christchurch and has expressed interest in being involved in an information technology hub planned for the city.

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