Science Pop

Mark WalhimerMuseum Planning, Science Center, Starting A Museum 6 Comments

Mobius Lab, Preview Science Center

Mobius Lab, Preview Science Center

A year ago we worked on a new science center in Indonesia. The project was on a very short schedule and we needed to use all “off the shelf exhibits” to meet the deadline.  As part of the project we created a database of quickly available exhibits.  Start to finish the Indonesian science center opened eight months, after I was first contacted.  The process got me thinking, “Why can’t we open lots of little science centers all over the world?”.  In Asia cites are popping up so quickly they are calling them “Cities in a Box”, why not “Science Centers in a Box”?

I am bothered by the “big box” science centers, $300 million dollar projects seem unnecessary.  You could build 100 smaller science centers for the same $300M budget.  My thinking behind Science Pop (science center in a box), has grown out of a need for community based science centers.  I receive an email a day from groups all over the world interested in starting small community based organizations without the resources to move forward.  There has been a dramatic shift in the world of science centers / children’s museums towards “Big Box” multi-million dollar organizations leaving smaller organizations behind.  To my thinking there is a greater impact to opening 100 small community based organizations world wide than one large destination based organization.  Below is an “elevator pitch”:

Science Pop

Let’s open 100 science centers worldwide.  Why can’t science centers be like a restaurant franchise?  A parent organization helps with site selection, then delivers a proven solution and continues to advise with oversight.  With a $20M (approximate) budget a foundation can be formed to create 100 tested proven educational facilities throughout the world.   Each science center would be self sustaining, with the core organization continuing to assure quality and adherence to science standards.

We receive many emails from people interested in opening a Science Center in developing countries.   These centers could be self sustaining but part of a core organization that assures quality with adherence to Science standards.  Since the Science-Pop (working title) development costs would be covered by the granting organization, the costs would be minimal: $250,000 start up and $70,000 per year operating (approximate).

We have found that trying to explain a science center is difficult.  It is much easier to build a “Preview Facility” and show people.

The next steps:

  • Create Advisory Board
  • Partners, Corporations; Non-Profits
  • Create request for business planning grant
  • Form 503(c)(3)
  • Start List of Locations / Organizations
  • Create Science Pop Prototype

What do you think?

Comments 6

  1. I love this idea, and in general wish educational experiences were more casual and more accessible on a daily basis. We’re starting with a smaller effort growing out of similar ideas, developing a science street cart to go into neighborhoods as part of our pop-up reading room called the Uni (

  2. Hi Leslie,
    Thank you! Love your project, The Uni Project is just the kind of space I am imaging for 100 community based science centers. Any suggestions on the description of Science Pop ? or next steps?

  3. Thanks Mark. As to next steps, I’d first contact all of those groups who have contacted you about starting centers, and suggest your shift in thinking. Ask them to identify and photograph vacant storefronts. Once you have 10 or so groups with potential properties identified, then look for an existing institution that might get excited looking at all of the photos of these storefronts who would want to sign on as a partner to help develop programming. I wouldn’t ask them to do anything else but the programming piece. The local groups are going to have the most success with site selection and fundraising, and the partnership with the parent institution will help them in that regard.

    Our Uni effort started with a storefront (, and then we decided to go portable and even smaller.

    Now we’re branching out from books. Hope to have a science cart solution by next spring!


  4. Yes to the idea, especially if the building and design is done at one location and then replicated 100 times across the globe. Down side is that wear and tear of items on the exhibit floor will have to have a built in replacement budget. Not impossible.

  5. Mark, once again great post. I think the easy access of a community based museum is a huge advantage over the bigger regionally attracting museums.

    One concept to consider for the venue is to repurpose older buildings, especially those of historical significance. Not only does it add depth and story to the attraction, but it turns an otherwise empty building into an educational center…something every community would support. Too often historically relevant buildings are in danger of being demolished for redevelopment. Repurposing older buildings for community science and/or history museums is a win win for everyone.

    I have emailed you this before, but check for a great example. An old military base is being turned into a science and history museum.

  6. This seems like a wonderful idea. I think one big opportunity this could present is lifting downtrodden communities. Holding community workshops for how to be more sustainable. For example, work on urban gardens, rain gardens, clean energy access, etc.

    One step to consider could be, after picking a location, talking to already active community groups in the area. Finding out what the community is lacking, and how a science center can help with that.
    These could have a specific framework that is the same, but be very community-based for content and workshops.

    Keeping historic buildings and repurposing them is a great option. Another is building or having something easy to set up, like the Uni, over brownfields. Any area in a community which has been abandoned would benefit greatly from a “Science-Pop.”

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