Gujarat Science City Ahmedabad is a state government initiative to promote science education among the communities of Gujarat. It is, effectively, a science-based theme park where visitors learn through interaction and play.
Featuring a range of attractions including an IMAX 3D theatre, an energy park, a hall of science, an amphitheatre, a life science park and dancing musical fountains, it has been undergoing a programme of revitalisation, with the addition of new features. For instance, an Aquatic Gallery, a Robotic Gallery and also a Nature Park.
Smit Shah of Cube Construction Engineering Ltd (CCEL) is Project Director for Science Museums & Theme Parks, contracted to execute some of these projects. He outlines the development and expansion of Gujarat Science City, focusing on the latest project, the Astronomy and Space Science Centre. This is due to open in 2022.
Introducing Gujarat Science City
“Science City Ahmadabad is now around 20 years old,” he says. “It was a big attraction at that time; there were not many science-based attractions here in India, especially in Gujarat. It was a good attraction, but over the years nothing much changed. There were new exhibits and some new attractions, but overall it remained very much as it had been.”
Accordingly, around three years ago, the decision was made to revitalize the entire offering.
“There is a huge area available within the entire campus for the expansion. Initially, two projects came up. The first is India’s first Robotic Museum; a project that we undertook, and which is now open. The museum has more than 170 working and static robots.”
They are all real-life robots that feature across many industries, he explains:
“When people think of robots, they often picture a humanoid figure that looks like a person but is a machine. That’s not actually true. Yeah. In our lives, we use many machines that are robots. Here we have many kinds of working robots that people can interact with, and see how they work.”
The second project at Gujarat Science City is India’s largest Aquarium and Nature Park, also now open. Work on the Astronomy and Space Museum, currently in progress, started in 2019.
“The whole project is being done by the Department of Science and Technology in Gujarat. We won the contract, and are executing the project. Had it not been for the pandemic, this project was supposed to be completed by now,” Shah says.
“The project covers an area of 90,000 square feet. It comprises four buildings, in which there are different galleries, each covering an area of space history. At the centre of the four buildings, there is a huge 18-meter dome. This dome will feature a hybrid 3D planetarium. We have an optomechanical projector to project a sun moon, all the planets and millions of stars. And we are also going to have 6K 3D digital projectors surrounding to show the 3D digital show.”
The Astronomy and Space Museum at Gujarat Science City
The idea behind the project, and behind Gujarat Science City itself, is the democratising of the educational experience.
“All this started with wondering how ordinary students, the common people, could experience something that, previously, could only be accessed by those at a very high level, or with a lot of money or technology.”
“There is an observatory for looking at stars and planets. But in terms of levels of delivery, access is limited to government organisations, ISRO, NASA and so on. Only they have access to the observatory and its very high-level telescope. The government wanted, therefore, to build a similar kind of observatory for common people.”
The technology is highly sophisticated:
“We are going to have a 24-inch aperture telescope and a 6.5-meter retractable dome. Once the data is fed into the telescope, telling it I want to see a particular planet, for example, the dome will rotate automatically, and I will see the really clear image of that planet.”
An edutainment model
The museum concept has been reimagined by this new project at Gujarat Science City, says Shah.
“Previously, museums used to have static models or some infographic panels, and some videos. There were very few interactive exhibits or working models. The idea was to change this, with this museum. When kids have a choice between entertainment or a museum, most of the kids will choose entertainment.”
When kids have a choice between entertainment or a museum, most of the kids will choose entertainment
Here, the idea is to make the museum so entertaining that children will, effectively, learn by stealth, without realizing that education is at the core of the fun they are enjoying.
“The exhibits are designed in such a way that it’s not just simple models of the rockets or infographics about the history of astronomy, about satellites. Instead, we are interpreting science through interactive exhibits, working exhibits, and AV.”
Space museum at Gujarat Science City will have several galleries
There are seven different galleries.
In the atrium area, a scale model of the solar system has the spherical planetarium hovering, representing the sun, at the centre of the movement of the eight planets around it. The galleries – past, present, and future – are elevated. There is a multi-purpose public space on the ground floor, featuring key exhibits such as the Foucault pendulum, an orrery, and so on.
Visitors enter the introductory projection hall for orientation, before moving on to the first floor, where the main exhibit is a scale model of the solar system, with the planetarium in the role of the sun.
The main exhibit galleries are dedicated to the past, present and future of space science, with each gallery divided into sub-zones. Interactive galleries are on the second floor, from which visitors can access the planetarium. The observatory is on the top floor.
The Past Gallery focuses on the universe and its origin, as well as the earliest ways in which humans started to study it. It starts at the orientation hall. The next sub-zone looks at the exploration of the universe as seen with the naked eye, and features sundial shadows and other ancient astronomical instruments:
“This gallery goes a long way back – to the ancient Egyptian geometrical history. Basically, we are saying that this whole thing started a very long time ago, and is not just a product of modern, technologically advanced civilisations. It goes way back to the original roots of astronomy; how people observed and explored.”
Exploring the universe
The next zone is dedicated to the exploration of the universe with telescope and spectroscopy. Exhibits include space observatory models, glowing gases, infrared radiation, and the icy body, which has a holographic projection system.
The Present Gallery covers the ways in which humanity has reached out to the stars and planets. Visitors are initially introduced to key details of the galaxy, then the next zone is dedicated to the exploration of the universe in modern times. This touches on the development of early rockets, with the next zone showcasing exhibits related to modern-day achievers in space science: satellites, space probes, launch vehicles, and so forth.
In the manned spaceflight zone, visitors can experience the different phenomena an astronaut will encounter in space.
“There are many working models of rockets, satellites, and large simulators,” says Shah. “So kids can use a screen and joystick to dock a satellite with the main ship, for example. We give kids a chance to be an astronaut without being astronauts.
“There are more than 20 working exhibits in this gallery – and we also have a solar surfer, where you are on the surfboard, and, in front of you, there is a huge screen where you see space, and the planets you are passing. It really is like being a surfer in space.”
Looking into the future
The Future Gallery speculates about the directions the future of space travel could take, including its risks and rewards. Its design resembles a futuristic sci-fi movie.
Shah says: “Having thought about history and about the present, what about the future? The design of the gallery is very much what kids see in the movies all the time. We have taken that Hollywood vision of the future and converted that imagination into a physical model.”
“There are some games where kids can make their own planet. These will stretch their ingenuity. If they have to create their own planet, there are many considerations. They will have to take care of the environment, and of the people. Once we make them think, there is so much they can come up with.
“We have games on terraforming Mars, and landers and rovers on Mars. There are so many futuristic exhibits that will be part of this really fascinating gallery.”
Space exploration in India
The next gallery is the Indian Gallery, concerned with Indian achievements and milestones in space exploration:
“Since this museum is in India, we want to explore not only past achievements but the space race that is going on right now. So it is about how many Indian rockets have gone into space; the Indian satellite launched via Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome space centre. There are some static models and also some working models of satellites.”
Another zone explores forces:
“We demonstrate how spaceships go up. There is also a Space-Time Explorer game, a Black Hole game, showing how a black hole works, and interactive gravitational waves. So that will be an exhibit of how gravitational waves work, how the Earth holds up, and how it rotates, and how, basically, space works.”
New museum at Gujarat Science City opens next year
The VR gallery features a virtual training experience for spaceflight and flight navigation and also includes a virtual reality flight simulator, as well as VR games.
From here, visitors move to the 200-seat state-of-the-art planetarium, then on to the theatre screening videos and feed from NASA and other space stations. The Solar Gallery is next, featuring solar phenomena, the effects of the sun, and a fixed assembly solar telescope. Visitors can see its projected images on a digital screen.
For this project, Ernst & Young are providing consulting services and INI Design Studio is the architect & design agency.
“Outside of the museum, we also have several sculptures, or working exhibits, including a 17-metre-tall rocket.”
Located off the Sarkhej Gandhinagar Highway, Gujarat Science City is an ambitious initiative that leverages the concept of teaching by stealth, using entertainment and technology as well as experiential, interactive exhibits to foster scientific curiosity.
The Astronomy and Space Science Centre, the latest addition, is a high tech project that takes edutainment to a new level. It will open in March 2022.