25 YEARS ON, SCIENCEWORKS COMES OF AGE

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By Kelly Kayne

Saying you live in Spotswood might get you a blank look, but saying you live near Scienceworks always gets a nod of recognition.

Built in 1992 as an educational science centre, Scienceworks was part of a global movement in the ‘hands on’ revolution, using immersive experiences to teach the mechanics of the universe. Situated behind the iconic walls of the Pumping Station, it sits alongside the West Gate Bridge and busy industrial waterways, as a living breathing part of inner-west Melbourne.

Self-confessed science geek, Nurin Veis has been the manager of Scienceworks for four years. With a background in biochemistry, medical research and filmmaking, she is the perfect person to be guiding the institution into its twenty-sixth year.

“It really was built on the smell of an oily rag for an estimated 250,000 visitors a year and we now get close to half a million”, says Veis. With technology creating more sophisticated audiences, engagement is now more targeted and uses what Veis calls ‘open ended exploration’, applying more cause and effect interaction with no right or wrong answer.

But it’s not just thousands of school children coming through the doors. Scienceworks has the only planetarium and lightning room in Melbourne. Exhibitions are designed with all ages in mind, requiring a unique team of employees to design and implement them.

“Our employees need to operate the heavy pumping station machinery, we have an on-site workshop to build the exhibits, a full-time astronomer, program planners, animators, developers, researches, marketers and customer service staff plus educational experts in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths”, Veis explains.

These program planners and educational experts carefully tailor exhibits to different age groups with a ‘junior board’ of local teens acting as both advisors and a test group for the elusive thirteen to fifteen year olds.

“If we want to play an important part in helping people develop more options for their future careers, having STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] skills really increases your options, so we want to engage that age group before they lose interest”, says Veis.

Scienceworks has become such a leader in the STEM education space, that it now helps government departments train primary school teachers.

International awards have also brought well-deserved recognition. Recent guest speaker on a Scienceworks panel and Dean of the Faculty of Education at Monash University, Professor Loughran said:

“STEM education is important in developing the knowledge, skills and abilities for the next generation and a major driver of economic development. Having a well informed, STEM-capable citizenship is crucial to not only understanding that world 
but being able to embrace and work in it in meaningful ways. Scienceworks offers opportunities for that to happen in both formal and informal ways”.

With the explosive growth in the west, there is also a hunger for interesting local events, so an adults-only program has been launched. The recent sleep under the stars ‘Yuri’s Night’ in honour of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, combined food, drinks, virtual reality, expert speakers, space exploration and costumes, all to the sounds of internationally acknowledged local DJs Sleep D. Other adult events included the dissection of electronic toys over a few beers – which apparently ignited a few new romances.

July 1st sees a collaboration with Melbourne-based artists, experimenting with different forms of light as part of the creative storytelling. Described by Veis as a ‘psychedelic and magical realm’, children and adults alike will be visually captivated, but technologies will be cutting edge and invite a deeper level of engagement with the older audiences.

The expanded programming suggests a maturity for Scienceworks as it turns twenty-five, but also big plans ahead. It owns the large vacant block next door, so what does Veis envision for the future?

“We are really looking at working with Government and industry, to find the right partners to develop the land and become a STEM hub. If the west is going to continue to grow like this and new schools or TAFEs appear, it would be great
 to work together with them to upskill people in the areas of science and technology. And imagine if we had other types
 of businesses located on the site who all build or use these technologies. Scienceworks could play a good role in helping the west embrace new industries and drive the STEM economy in Victoria”.

Footscray has claimed the title of University City, so ‘STEMwood’ certainly seems like a good fit.

 

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