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the Observatory Science Centre

Museums at Night festival holds novel Steam events

Image credit: Observatory Science Centre

Keen to dispel the image of musty old buildings stuffed with ancient artefacts, museums all over the UK are reinventing themselves by holding unique out-of-hours events and exhibitions as part of the Museums at Night festival.

The UK’s bi-annual after-hours festival of science, arts, culture and heritage kicks off this week with hundreds of museums, galleries and historic spaces opening their doors after dark. 

Produced by Brighton-based independent non-profit company Culture24 and backed by Arts Council England, the Museums at Night festival is designed to encourage new audiences into museums and galleries to experience all things science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM).

The 2017 festival runs between 17 and 20 May, tying in with International Museum Day on 18 May. Now in its ninth year, the event has seen phenomenal growth, attracting 220,000 visits to 700 events across the country in 2016.

“The May event proved so successful that in 2015 we added an extra October Museums at Night festival to tie in with Halloween,” says Rosie Clarke, Culture24’s communications and sector support manager. “The festival is a key part of our mission as it inspires thousands of new visitors to discover fascinating science and arts innovations that they might not get to see due to the constraints of work/school timetables,” explains Clarke.

“It’s a chance for people to get up close with amazing exhibitions and interactive events, take a peek behind the scenes, see live performances and partake in special talks, in a completely novel environment,” she adds.

“As we approach the end of our first decade, visitors’ expectations are evolving and the festivals are packed with ever more extraordinary events,” says Nick Stockman, campaigns manager for Museums at Night. “It’s great to see so many types and sizes of venues, from all over the country, creating this mass celebration of science, culture and heritage.”

Attractions in this May’s Museums At Night festival include:

AV surveillance at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Manchester

MOSI has teamed up with the Engine House Collective (Islington Mill) to create an audiovisual installation in the Air and Space Hall.

Projected directly onto the huge Avro Shackleton aircraft in the centre of the hall, the work will explore ideas of surveillance. Designed in Manchester, the Avro Shackleton operated as a patrol and early warning aircraft – an ‘eye in the sky’ in the pre-digital age.

The installation uses enveloping sound, bold visuals, and atmospheric lighting, and also allows visitors to create their own visual designs.

Light and Dark Technology Night, Colchester Castle Museum

“Museums at Night in Colchester is set to offer visitors an eclectic mix of cutting-edge science and ancient history,” explains Tom Hodgson, Colchester museums manager.

“The idea is to illuminate how the principles of light and dark have influenced the development of humanity over tens of thousands of years: from how manipulation of fire led to a cultural as well as cognitive boom in early human history with the development of cave art, through to how the discovery of ultraviolet light had links to the natural world.”

The event will consist of stations around the museum where visitors can learn more about the theme of light and dark through its collections, as well as torch-lit tours. In addition, scientists from Surrey Nanosystems will also be on hand to showcase their new material Vantablack: a light-absorbing material that has applications in astronomy, optics, architecture and automotive engineering, and which can even make three-dimensional objects appear two dimensional.

“Colchester Castle’s Museum at Night event is all about making learning fun and offering visitors an opportunity to experience some of our collections in fascinating, thought-provoking and multidisciplinary ways, appealing to a wide range of interests,” states Hodgson.

Neuroscience: Why People Buy live demo at the Museum of Brands, London

Nikki Westoby, director of Neuroscience at Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience will hold a fascinating talk introducing techniques that brands use to hone their products and will give background into how the conscious and subconscious brain works.

For example, many consumers use their subconscious ‘gut reaction’ to guide their buying decisions: from cars to kitchenware. The study of neuroscience allows researchers to begin to understand consumers’ subconscious reactions to products, brands and advertising - gaining deeper insights into consumer behaviour. Visitors will also have the opportunity to network informally with other professionals from the industry. 

Stargazing and interactive physics, The Observatory Science Centre Herstmonceux, East Sussex

The Observatory Science Centre (OSC) is a unique attraction set among the domes of the former Royal Greenwich Observatory, which relocated from London to the clearer skies of Sussex in the 1940s and 50s. In addition to the festival events the observatory holds regular open evenings throughout the year.

“Our aim has always been to make science accessible, engaging and entertaining for all ages, as well as nurturing an interest among our young visitors in STEM subjects,” says OSC marketing officer Barry Howse.  

“Our site is very dark and we keep lighting to a minimum to preserve night vision and to ensure that visitors have the best possible experience in terms of viewing the night sky,” he adds.

With dimly lit high walkways, ramps and steps throughout the centre visitors are encouraged to bring (or buy on site) red light torches – as opposed to white, which destroy night vision.

Weird Science at Ampersand Inventions, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Ampersand Inventions has gathered the craziest of the north east’s researchers, scientific experts, inventors and creatives together under the guise of ‘The Guild of Wizards, Creatives and Celestial Beings’ to present a ‘weird science’ event.

Participants include Maker Space, an eclectic group of programmers, scientists and engineers that has set up a local community space to meet, work, socialise, share ideas and collaborate. There’s also Explore: Lifelong Learning, an organisation that runs talks and workshops on subjects such as archaeology, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy and science.

Science is Cool, Victoria Gallery & Museum, Liverpool

A special robotics and cryogenic cooling exhibition that allows visitors to discover some of the most exciting areas of science and take part in interactive exhibits.

Planetarium Nights, Exploring the Solar System 3D/ Spring Stargazing 3D, Bristol Science Centre

In one of the UK’s most advanced planetariums, visitors will be introduced to astronomy by ‘flying’ into our Solar System using a state of the art digital projection system to explore the planets. They’ll also be able to find constellations, fly to gas giant Jupiter and discover how our cosmos continues to change.

As with many other museums, Bristol Planetarium is a charity and relies both on supporters – and volunteers. The planetarium runs a volunteer programme that allows young people interested in STEM subjects to choose from a wide range of experiences from working with visitors in live labs to supporting school workshops, as well as getting out and about with the team at local community venues and events – including the bi-annual Museums At Night Festival. 

1960’s family party, Enginuity, Shropshire

Museums have come up with more novel ways of luring visitors: such as Enginuity, one of the ten Ironbridge Gorge museums in Shropshire. This year Enginuity will be holding a free entry 1960s family party. While the adults can sup classic old-school beverages like Babycham and Blue Nun wine, younger visitors can explore the giant techno interactive exhibits like how to pull a 10-ton locomotive by hand, generate electricity from flowing water, build an earthquake proof tower or challenge the robotic arm to test the speed of reactions.

They’ll also get the chance to get creative in The Fab Lab design and manufacture facility, which includes a 3D printer. Adults are encouraged to come in 60s fancy dress with the best costume winning an Annual Family Passport Ticket for the Museums.

For details of all venues, events and activities visit www.museumsatnight.org.uk, where listing information will be continually updated throughout the festival.

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