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Science Center Leaders Attend ASTC Annual Conference

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More than 1, 800 science center professionals from across the world have gathered  in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,   for the 2008 ASTC Annual Conference which runs from October 18-21. ASTC 2008, “In the Public Eye: Science Centers at the Crossroads of Science and Culture, ” is being hosted by The Franklin Institute and held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Philadelphia Marriott Downtown. Highlights of this year’s Annual Conference include:

• Over 140 conference sessions that will challenge participants to explore their responsibility to both their scientific and public constituencies and ask: What role do we play in reflecting or supporting the views of these communities? How do we mediate the relationship between science and public audiences?
• The ASTC Exhibit Hall, featuring more than 150 exhibitors in nearly 200 booths.
• The presentation of the ASTC Fellow Award for Outstanding Contribution, the Association’s highest honor, and the 2008 Roy L. Shafer Leading Edge Awards, presented annually to ASTC members and/or their employees in recognition of extraordinary accomplishments in Visitor Experience, Business Practice, and Leadership in the Field.

Journalist and cultural critic Steven Berlin Johnson gave the keynote address at the ASTC Annual Conference in Philadelphia on October 18. His talk, entitled “Thinking Across Boundaries: Inspiration from The Ghost Map, ”  drew upon his most recent bestselling book. The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World tells the story of London’s 1854 cholera outbreak. 

Although most authorities at the time believed in miasma (the idea that disease was caused by smells), physician John Snow and vicar Henry Whitehead gathered evidence to support Snow’s idea that cholera was a waterborne illness. Their work ultimately led to the establishment of safe water supplies and helped make city life possible.

Johnson encouraged science centers to take several lessons from this story. First, he stressed the importance of not framing science as a “steady march upward, ” but instead making the effort to “look at the history of mistakes, ” such as miasma. He also encouraged science centers to pursue a way of thinking that he called “the long zoom, ” which involves thinking across different scales. For example, he said that Snow looked at the epidemic on every scale “from microbe to metropolis.” Johnson also suggested that science centers can fill a role as places where new ideas like Snow’s can develop. “As a society, we have to recognize the importance of cultivating hunches, ” he said. ”The history of ideas is filled with hunches that had leisure time to develop.”

 With more than 96 million visitors worldwide each year, science centers are community resources for informal science learning, serving families, schoolchildren, teachers, and citizens. They are places where people of all ages, cultures, and educational levels can learn at their own pace, engage their curiosity, and use all of their senses to explore science and technology.

About The Franklin Institute
Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is a renowned and innovative leader in the field of science and technology learning, as well as a dynamic center of activity. In 1824, The Franklin Institute was established as the first professional organization of mechanical engineers and professional draftsmen in the United States. The Franklin Institute has survived for more than 175 years, finding ways to adapt, flourish, and create opportunities for expanding knowledge. Evolving over the years, but retaining a passion for exploration and discovery, the heart of the Institute’s mission remains public science and technology education – through interactive exhibits, theater-based programming, educational programs and outreach. The Franklin Institute is composed of three centers of division, The Science Center, The Center for Innovation in Science Learning, and The Benjamin Franklin Center. 

About The Association of Science-Technology Centers
The Association of Science-Technology Centers is an organization of 443 science centers and museums in 44 countries dedicated to furthering public engagement with science among diverse audiences. ASTC encourages excellence and innovation in informal science learning by serving and linking its members worldwide and advancing their common goals. Through strategic alliances and global partnerships, ASTC also supports science centers and museums in proactively addressing critical societal issues, locally and globally, where understanding of and engagement with science are essential.  

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