The new show, open to the public until June 22, comprises 36 images that reveal the beauty of things invisible to the naked human eye: from the antennae and proboscis of a butterfly to the wing of a dragonfly and the stamens of a flower.
20 years of museum, 20 years of science for Fundació ”la Caixa”
Barcelona, 14 December 2001
This year the Science Museum of Fundació ”la Caixa” celebrates its 20th anniversary. Two decades in which it has consolidated as a European reference due to its significant contributions in the field of modern scientific museology as well as activities that stimulate the creation of public scientific opinion. At present, the Museum is in the process of expansion, involved in some construction work that will make it one of the most modern and innovative museums in Europe of its kind. Of the 6,000 m2 which were previously available it will have a usable area of 30,000 m2.
First interactive museum in Spain
In 1981, the Science Museum of Fundació ”la Caixa” was the first institution in Spain that opened its doors to the public with the objective of promoting scientific knowledge and revealing the interest in science from a participative, multidisciplinary perspective. Its permanent rooms, with interactive modules that visitors were able to manipulate, responded to one of its initial aims, new at that time: “Experiment for yourself”.
The Museum combines real objects, instruments for scientific experimentation, living species … and invites visitors to understand science in a participative way, so that they can put themselves in the skin of an authentic researcher. The exhibitions have centred on modern scientific museology, based on experimentation and interactivity.
The museum not only aims to fulfil an educational and informational function, but goes much further. It is a meeting place for different classes of society related to science, the Universities, research centres, as well as a place where experts can debate and make known subjects of current scientific interest. Throughout these 20 years it has been consolidating its discourse around a main idea: the museum as a scene that provides stimulation in favour of scientific knowledge and methodology, and as a scene for creating public opinion on scientific matters.
During the latter years of the eighties, interactive science museums primarily covered areas of basic physics such as mechanics, optics, waves, etc. At that time, the Museum considered the need for a radically new reflection: place citizens in direct contact with living matter. This was the birth of, first, The Living Planet and, the next year, the Touch, touch! areas, that with few technological and intellectual precedents, represented completely new challenges such as: maintaining the interactive nature of living matter and ensuring that it was not affected by such manipulation.
During these 20 years the Science Museum of Fundació ”la Caixa” has centred its lines of action on three main axes: the activities planned to be performed in the centre, including exhibitions, workshops, experiments, courses, conferences, etc.; the travelling exhibitions, that aim to spread scientific knowledge throughout Spain and; thirdly, make the Museum a centre of debate and scientific forums through the workshops and the Evenings at the Museum led by outstanding figures in world research.
Throughout these 20 years, Museum visitors have been able to see exhibitions such as “The Amazons, the final paradise” “Hurricane, 1724. Sailors and shipwrecked on the Mercury Route”, “What is life? The immune system against AIDS” and, more recently, “And then there was… Shape!”
In the first of these, “The Amazons, the final paradise”, a series of research projects were initiated, in the first place, through field work and collaboration with national institutions and experts, and later on with the use of all sorts of technical and material resources in the setup that would enable them to communicate a wide range of emotions to the visitors. Thus, visitors could become submerged in this ecosystem, feeling the dampness, smells, sounds, colours, diversity and nearly the taste through their sense of smell; the extraordinary diversity of the Amazons that became the essence of this exhibition, one of the most emblematic in the Museum, and the museology which allowed to speak of a before and after. At present, the Museum continues research and experimentation to attain the new milestones proposed for the new project. “Big and small” has attempted to be a foretaste.
Five and a half million schoolchildren have participated in the educational activities
In 1981 the planetarium sessions were initiated with specialised subjects for school groups, and the activities that aimed to allow teachers and professors to interact with the Museum with a view to preparation for the visit with their groups of students. The Museum’s educational offer, which has been attended by 224,832 school groups, has been expanded and changed with the passing of time, including new halls and exhibitions, also with the aim of responding to the need to communicate subjects of current scientific interest to educational professionals and schoolchildren.
In 1989, with the addition of the Children’s Clik, activities were also planned to bring science closer to children starting at 3 years old. Workshops such as atmospheric pressure, heat, oxidation; planetarium sessions, guided visits; Cinema of the schools: scientific itineraries and pedagogical conversations are some of the different proposals which the youth who visit the centre can participate in.
International Forum of Scientific Events
4,423 sessions under the direction of 1,989 experts
Conferences, debates, courses, symposiums, congresses and seminars with a specific per cent dedicated to scientific matters that influence our everyday lives or a more theoretical debate and reflection. All of this always under the direction of leading figures in research or thought.
As an example, at a decisive moment in the spectacular social debate on the cloning of the well-known sheep Dolly, Ian Wilmut visited the Museum, and presented and debated the scientific and social implications of this new technology.
Robert Gallo visited us when there was a pronounced expansion of the AIDS virus. Stephen Hawking wanted to present his book Brief history of time at the Museum.
The year 2000 will be remembered as the year in which the sequence of the human genome was finally deciphered. The Museum organised the symposium “The long adventure of the genome, Ian Dumham of the Sanger Institute.” The European centre which had participated most in the human genome project came to explain it.
In 2001, Brigitte Senut and Martin Pickford came to the Museum to present their most recent findings, the fossil remains of a supposed new humanoid species: Orrorin, the man of the Millennium.
The Museum has also generated intense and stimulating findings in the field of thought. We remember the process of chance or the debates on infinity, complexity, evolution, natural selection, the origin of man or life or the universe, to name just a few.
The Evenings at the Museum, heirs to the current interest cycles that the Museum has been scheduling since 1983, and meetings in all of their formats, the first of which was held in 1980, have been consolidating as a neutral forum, a meeting place between the different social classes related to science, the Universities, the research centres, and the citizens involved. A place where experts have come to debate and make known subjects of current scientific interest or thought in a stimulating atmosphere.
During these past twenty years it has been visited by a long list of nearly 2,000 scientists, including figures such as Henry Taube, (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1983), François Jacob (Nobel Prize for Medicine, 1965), Harold Kroto, (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1996), Francisco Ayala, Mariano Barbacid, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Vinton Cerf, Georges Charpak (Nobel Prize for Physics, 1992), Ignacio Cirac, Faustino Cordon, Christian De Duve (Nobel Prize for Medicine, 1974), Daniel D. Dennet, Frank Drake, John Kenneth Galbraith, Murray Gell-Mann (Nobel Prize for Physics, 1979), Sheldon Lee Glashow (Nobel Prize for Physics, 1979), Jane Goodall, Francisco Grande Covian, Jean Marie Lehn (Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1987), James Lovelock, Benoit Mandelbrot, Ramon Margalef, Lynn Margulis, Stanley Lloyd Miller, Edgard Morin, Joan Oró, Antonio Prevosti, Martin Rees, Hubert Reeves, Joseph Roblat (Nobel Peace Prize, 1995), Jordi Sabater Pi, Philip Tobias, Francisco Varela, Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize for Physics, 1979).
The Museum has collaborated with, or been visited by, experts from 1,056 institutions, including all of the Universities of Catalonia and many Spanish, European and American Universities. European, Russian and American space agencies, as well as research organisations such as the CNRS, the CSIC, the Max Plank, Institutes and Research Centres, etc. must be added to this brief list.
The expansion process continues at a good pace. For this reason, it is planned that in the summer of 2002 the Museum will begin to be transferred to the Cultural Centre of Fundació ”la Caixa” in Passeig de Sant Joan, 108, where the educational as well as scientific opinion activities that are usually conducted at the Museum will continue. Moreover, this centre will offer a new exhibition on the scientific method.
The new museum
Fundació ”la Caixa” saw the need to expand its Science Museum due to the considerable increase in visitors in recent times. The opportunity to begin this new project is a privilege. There are very few institutions that can undertake a new project with the human resources (a team that has progressively gained experience for 20 years), physical resources (land where the building will be located) and economic resources required to carry it out successfully.
The successes of this evolution, which support the Museum philosophy, are still innovative. They can be summarised as follows:
1) Subjects of interest: Everything from Quark to Shakespeare can be approached by using the scientific method (matter, energy, information, life, intelligence, civilisation).
2) Interdisciplinary nature: Nature is not responsible for the school and University curricula (reality is the starting point and any discipline can be used to make it understandable).
3) Self-criticism: The method used to obtain results is as important as the results themselves.
4) Emotion is the natural vehicle for communication within the Museum: scientific rigour must not be confused with rigor mortis.
The remodelling, which is planned for completion at the end of 2003, will make the museum one of the largest and most modern of its kind in the world. The total area of the project, including the constructed area as well as the gardens, is 47,600 m2. There will be approximately 30,000 m2 in the area accessible to the public.