Bengaluru: Dehydrated pebbles that make music – “rock”, perhaps – when immersed in water, cassava tubers that “interact” with human beings, a colony of ants that gives a lesson on antibiotics, photographs as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Numerous exhibitions defy expectations at the Science Gallery Bengaluru, a rare space where scientists and artists come together to present science in new and captivating ways.
The Global Science Gallery Network, an initiative launched at Trinity College Dublin in 2008, now has centers in seven cities around the world, but Bengaluru is different from its counterparts. While universities run the other centers, enterprising people from diverse backgrounds run the Bengaluru Science Gallery as a non-profit organization, with funding from the government of Karnataka.
“Science Gallery is a different kind of beast,” said science historian Jahnavi Phalkey, who officially established the center in Bengaluru in January 2018 after previously working with the Deutsches Museum (of science and technology) in Munich. and the Science Museum in London. in various capacities.
“The challenge is what brought me here, to establish a new type of interpreted public space for India and to rethink what a public space means for science in the country today,” said she added.
Without the dedicated support of an academic institution, it has not always been easy to bring together international scientists and artists, but over the past four and a half years, the center has successively hosted several immersive and interactive exhibitions, conferences , workshops, masterclasses and events involving music, films and food. Everything is designed so that visitors not only look, but think.
Themes explored so far – through hands-on experiments, science-based art installations, virtual tours and films – have included the brain and the complexities of thought, a mind-bending view of plant life, a a deep dive into the mysteries of water, a new look at the elements of the periodic table, and a multidisciplinary investigation into ‘contagion’ – not just disease, but also emotions and behavior.
“The problem in India is that higher education is siloed where experts from different fields work separately,” Phalkey told ThePrint. “Therefore, for the context of India, the first thing I decided was that my work would not only be in the natural sciences, but also in the humanities and social sciences.”
Another goal is to encourage people to become more engaged in science and foster a “scientific culture” by encouraging visitors to interact with experimental spaces and instruments, Phalkey added. “As soon as you say science is part of everyday life and you want people to relate to it daily, you realize the result is really culture.”
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Past exhibitions and future projects
So far, two of the five exhibitions have taken place in physical spaces (pre-Covid), and attendees and speakers have included interdisciplinary experts and artists.
The first exhibition, titled “Elements”, was held in October 2019, in partnership with the UK’s Royal Society for Chemistry and the Jawaharlal Nehru Center for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) in Bengaluru. Along with an interactive exhibit, which used everyday objects from the crowd to represent the elements in a 3D periodic table, it featured a musical performance true to the theme, experiments with food, and film screenings.
The second and largest physical exhibition, “Submerge”, from December 15, 2019 to January 30, 2020, aimed to present water in a new light. Aimed at young adults, it included events such as music from dehydrated rocks in water tanks, film screenings and interactions with filmmakers, and workshops ranging from learning how to transform puddles from water in the streets, to creating clouds in a lab, to writing science fiction involving water. on Mars.
The following three exhibitions were virtual due to the pandemic.
“Phytopia,” in August 2020, covered topics like photosynthesis, fractal patterns in plant structures, botanical art, and native food. ‘Contagion’, which ran from April 30 to December 31, 2021, explored the scourges of British India, clinical art history, misinformation and modern medicine. “Psyche,” which ran from April 1 to May 15 this year, drew attention to reality distortion, schizophrenia, stem cell research, music and rhythm, and more .
The gallery has also launched other initiatives.
“In June this year, we organized the CARBON Summer School, a four-week residency program for 20 young adults from across India through a grant from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) “said Madhushree Kamak, program manager at the university. Gallery.
The program focused on understanding carbon and global warming from a variety of perspectives and involved interaction with experts from a variety of backgrounds, field and community visits, and learning under the guidance of mentors.
The Science Gallery’s next exhibition is set to take place at the end of the year and will likely be held in its first dedicated facility – a new upcoming public laboratory complex near Mekhri Circle.
Plans are now underway to expand the scope of exhibits and events. The physical center will involve several experimental spaces and instruments to interact with.
“We expect there to be a lot of community engagement,” said Neha Arora, gallery development manager. “It is possible because we will have space for various activities, groups and different types of commitments.”
Phalkey said the team also plans to focus on “citizen science” – involving members of the public more in science and discovery.
It would be interesting to see how well the gallery works to increase “scientific literacy” and even STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) enrollment, Phalkey said, pointing to trends seen at Trinity College.
According to her, five years after the opening of the Science Gallery in Dublin, the number of STEM enrollments has increased at Trinity College; admission forms indicated that a significant number of applicants had visited the center.
“We don’t want people to come, watch an exhibition and leave. The goal is to create works that make you think. We want people to feel the depth of what was presented,” Phalkey said.
Part of a network, but the Bengaluru Science Gallery is different
The Science Gallery was conceptualized at Trinity College Dublin in 2005 by experimental physicist Michael Coey (no longer associated), as a public outreach facility for the institute. The main objectives were to respond to the declining number of STEM enrollees at Trinity and to tap into the wealth of talent visiting The Complex in Dublin, the famous center for the living arts. With the aim of marrying science and art, the first Science Gallery was established in Dublin in 2008.
In 2012, after receiving financial support from Google, Science Gallery International was created, aiming to set up eight more centers around the world. King’s College London was the second to enroll, followed immediately by Bengaluru and then the University of Melbourne. There have been eight such galleries worldwide, including in Atlanta, Detroit, Rotterdam, Berlin, and Venice (now closed).
Working with such a variety of people from diverse backgrounds and bringing them together is especially rewarding, both Kamak and Arora said. “It’s a really nice mix of disciplines and backgrounds, with people from different parts of the country all coming together with a common interest,” Kamak said.
She was the first employee to join the gallery, and Arora was next. “We had fun at the exhibitions with stuff like edible items (a food-based event), cultural performances, and music. It was really unexpected for people, and a good challenge after our first exposure.
The team grew after the first show, and the next one was even bigger, she added.
But with the pandemic came a steep learning curve, Arora said. “We suddenly had to figure out which format would work best digitally, and now we’re planning to go back to physical exhibits,” she explained. “So the expectations are very high on what we are able to deliver on both.”
Unlike other centers of the Global Science Gallery Network, the Bengaluru branch is incorporated as an independent non-profit organization, funded by the Government of Karnataka, rather than being affiliated with an individual institution.
“Much of our energy is devoted to fundraising and administrative work, and the vision of Science Gallery Bengaluru is broader than that of other galleries, which are closer to being the public engagement arm of the university they are part of,” Arora explained. , which participates in fundraising.
The gallery has, however, partnered with three institutions – the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and the Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology. The gallery staff of 19 currently works on the NCBS campus.
The new Science Gallery Bengaluru building is expected to be partially open by the end of the year and fully opened by early 2023.
(Editing by Asavari Singh)
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