Project What If’s Open City Lab is a 140m² working laboratory which aims to enable the public to influence science research by participating at varying stages of the process – whether that be question asking, posing ethical considerations, designing experiments or elsewhere.

Academics from several West Country universities alongside industry and community researchers will be on site to deliver sessions with the assistance of We The Curious science communicators.

“We set out on a journey three years ago, to challenge the way that science centres present the scientific process to visitors, with the aim of giving visitors agency in science research,” explains Helen Della Nave, open source science manager for We The Curious. “Open City Lab is the manifestation of where we have got to so far in that journey; visitors will have a voice in this space which they haven’t experienced before.”

The laboratory’s creation has been funded by The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, and the grant-making trust has also backed a two-year collaboration between We The Curious and the Institute of Research in Schools – once again designed to diversify and democratise science.

Bristol exhibition content guided by curiosities of visitors and local community

Nigel Williams from The Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 believes the funding is being channelled in a highly important direction. “Participating in real life research is a great way to introduce people to the excitement and challenge of cutting- edge science and generate the spark that ultimately leads to a career in STEM. Open City Lab offers that opportunity in an innovative setting and we wish it every success.”

We The Curious believes its new exhibition marks a significant moment in science centres’ relationship with their audiences. It represents a shift, the organisation says, from a “one-way download of information from researcher to visitor into a more collaborative process where all visitors, of all ages and experience, can question researchers and play an active part in their research projects”.

The Bristol attraction is set to reopen in November, assuming ongoing redevelopment work is completed and there are no changes in government guidance for museums.

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