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'Over 250,000 people through the door': Staff at Ottawa Museum say interest in science hasn't declined

Christine Tessier, the director general at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, has seen a spike in attendance at work, despite studies that say Canadians are losing interest in science.
The Canada Science and Technology Museum has seen over 250,000 visitors since it reopened last November, says director general Christina Tessier. (Canada Science and Technology Museum/Facebook)

While a recent study found that 46 per cent of Canadians believe science has "somewhat important" place in their lives, Christina Tessier thinks otherwise.

Tessier, who is the director general at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, called in during Cross Country Checkup's show on the public's trust in science
Christina Tessier is the director general of the Canada Science and Technology Museum (Courtesy of Ingenium)

Her museum recently reopened last November after a three-year $80 million renovation. Since then, she's seen a major spike in attendance. She spoke with Checkup host Duncan McCue and CBC News Technology and Science reporter Nicole Mortillaro about why she believes Canadians are still interested in science.

Duncan McCue: Christina, you work at the Canada Science and Technology Museum, so you must have direct experience with the public's interest level in science.

Christina Tessier: Absolutely. I work at the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa. We have two other institutions — the aviation and space, and the agriculture and food — that work with our corporation. Our museum recently reopened after a three-year closure. In the past four months since our reopening, we've had over 250,000 people through the door. I can tell you that the Canadian public, especially here in Ottawa, are hungry for science. They want to engage with it. Our museums and science centres across the country have a really important role to play in bringing that engaging science to the public. 

I can tell you that the Canadian public, especially here in Ottawa, are hungry for science.- Christina Tessier

DM: I'm thinking back to some of the science and math courses that I had back in high school and they were pretty dry. Is there a way that we can improve science education?

CT: Absolutely. We're working with the Ontario Ministry of Education on a new pilot project that will bring a multidisciplinary approach to how we address STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), so that it's not split up across disciplines. Museums and science centres also run school programs across the country where you can have that hands-on interactive learning. That's when people really engage, when children can be touching and doing, versus listening and reading.

Nicole Mortillaro: One of the great scientific outreach programs in Canada is the Science Rendezvous, where kids can see real scientists doing real experiments and they can do the experiments themselves, too. Is the Canada Science and Technology Museum part of that program?

CT: Because our museum has been closed the last few years for renovations, we haven't been part of that particular program. But we run a program called Curiosity on Stage and we invite scientists in every week to share their research to the audience to talk about why it matters, why it's cool, why it's fun and why Canadians should be interested in what they're doing. It's really critical that we run these grassroots programs across the country so kids have a chance to see why they might be interested in science, even if they're artists.

Kids interacting with part of Quantum: The Exhibition at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. (Courtesy of Ingenium)

We've moved from STEM to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) and brought the arts into the conversation. When we look at the multidisciplinary piece, it's always important to have multiple points of view at the table. That sense of creativity and curiosity that we can drive our younger generation and bring that across the science spectrum is where we hit some real wins.

DM: The museums and science centres do such a good job of emphasizing and giving us the scope of hope that science brings. But as scientists push ahead and find new discoveries, we're not always sure what the side effects of those discoveries are going to be. As we forge ahead into the uncertainty, how should we address concerns people have about scientific and technological advancements?

CT: Certainly there are questions of, "Can we?" But also, "Should we?" We look at our museum as a place to have those conversations and some of them are challenging conversations.

Christina Tessier's comments have been edited and condensed. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio link above. This online segment was prepared by Champagne Choquer.