|Projects : Civil Engineers and Science Museums : Project Description
used with permission by the
Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District
With funding from the Informal Science Education branch of the National Science Foundation, CUREE, Consortium of Universities for Research in Earthquake Engineering, is conducting a project to build an ongoing network connecting civil engineers and science museums to the mutual advantage of both communities.
The most critical continuing impact of the project will be the establishment of an ongoing network (called here the Network of Science Center and Engineering Professionals, or the Network) between the civil engineering community and science museums or centers. Thus, the outcome of this project will not be one-shot products that only reach an initial target audience; the projects deliverables will extend more broadly.
1. The Audience: The Two Professional Communities to be Involved in this Project
Science and technology museums and science centers are staffed by professionals who know what works in their particular facility and program--for example, what is understandable to and engaging for the audiences that have been identified as their particular visitors and the clientele they seek to serve. The engineering community, which here means the civil engineering field and more particularly structural and geotechnical engineering, is typically remote from this knowledge of the museums users and the needs and the constraints within which a science museum operates, but the engineering community is intimately involved in the creation and application of knowledge in this field.
Science museums and centers may not have professionals on staff who are expert in a given field research, but they know how the Public Understanding of Research works. The experts, the civil engineers in this case, know what the current research and applications are and can separate high-quality from low-quality information and explanations, but sometimes they display what might be called the Researchers Misunderstanding of the Public Understanding of Current Research. That is, they sometimes assume that the public is fascinated by and can understand the complex or detailed findings that may be of interest to the experts, taking their own well-developed conceptual foundation of their expertise for granted.
Thus, we have two very different sets of backgrounds and goals between these two communities, and spanning between them is not a collaborative process that automatically occurs. Indeed, although it has been done in exemplary fashion and that expertise is represented on the projects Steering Committee, as a whole, engineering has done a poor job of presenting itself to the public via science museums and centers as compared to the more pure sciences such as astronomy or earth sciences, or applied sciences such as genetic engineering that appear frequently in the headlines. Yet, there is great potential in linking content-rich knowledge producers (the engineering field in this case) with audience-rich organizations (the museums and other informal education centers). (Ucko, 2001)