Spotlight on Science North: Nightlife on the Rocks

February 9, 2017

By Jenny Kliever

Picture this: you’re out with friends on a Friday night after a long week at work. You’re having a few cocktails over good conversation, there’s live music, people are playing games, others are dancing. Where might you be? Of all the possible places, a science centre probably doesn’t come to mind, right? Well thanks to Science North’s unique adult outreach events, it should!

Science North is a science museum in Sudbury, Ontario. It has permanent science exhibits as well as traveling exhibitions, an IMAX theatre, and a host of interactive shows and specialized programs. Science North, like most science museums, does quite a good job of engaging children and providing an environment in which children can learn and enjoy themselves. This is a great thing! However, based on some visitor survey results that Science North has collected over the years, most adults that come to the science centre during the day are there as “facilitators” to guide the children they’re with in their learning, rather than learn themselves. Although this too is wonderful, the staff at Science North decided a number of years ago that more could be done for adults. As a result, Science North launched an event series called “Nightlife on the Rocks” which would be aimed more specifically at engaging adults in a unique and fun way. 

I’ve been to two of these events and helped run one of them while I was a Science Communications student in Sudbury. Basically, they are massive parties with drinks, music and activities that are held directly in the Science Centre. The whole thing feels a bit forbidden, like you sort of shouldn’t have a beer in your hand while examining a whale skeleton in a museum after hours, right? It definitely brings back images of Night at the Museum with Ben Stiller.

The  goals of the program are to attract adult audiences, accommodate their motivations, engage them in new and relevant science experiences, and increase Science North’s overall attendance and visitor satisfaction. Through keeping track of attendance and collecting feedback surveys from attendees, Science North has been able to determine that these events are quite successful! Firstly, they have anywhere between 500 and 800 visitors per event (adults only), which makes for quite a packed, buzzing science centre. Secondly, the results from the survey show that most people attend because they are either seeking a new experience or wanting to satisfy a personal curiosity (there are no “facilitators” at these events like there are during the day at Science North). Survey results also show that 88% of the attendees learn something new and 78% of attendees have an experience that has helped them relate science to everyday life. What’s more is that 85% of attendees say that they will come back to a Nightlife on the Rocks event. 

So what does one of these events actually look like? One of them for example was called “Sex, Love and the Rhythm of” and fell on Valentine’s Day weekend in 2015. I imagine that some visitors came solely for the name, but then walked away with a lot more than a good giggle at some dirty jokes. One exhibit at the event was a “lube test” where visitors got to play with several ramps that were covered in different types of lubrication. Besides getting a bit sticky, visitors also walked away with a better understanding of viscosities. Another exhibit was a trivia show where visitors learned fun facts about sex in the animal kingdom and hopefully walked away with a new perspective on the topic. To further build the atmosphere, a section of one of the floors was converted into a bar with waiters dressed in snazzy uniforms, and the whole place was abuzz with energy from the Science North staff.  

With this event, Science North took an overarching theme that is interesting to many adults and built an entire event around it. Visitors were able to roam the science centre freely, having fun, choosing to stop at the exhibits that were most interesting to them, and engaging for as little or much time as they wanted. 

During these Nightlife on the Rocks events, when asked 'What was most interesting about your visit tonight?", some of the quotes people have provided include:

"It was something different and fun not having kids around."

"The ideas the staff come up with - very interesting."

"Spending time with friends."

"Beer in a science centre."

"Meeting new people and learning what NIGHTLIFE was all about."

"I loved the topics!"

"Walking around and being a kid again - having a new place to go with partner besides the movies and the bar."

It is important that Science Centres across the country and globally pursue targeted adult outreach programs such as this one in order to increase their impact across this section of the public. Do you know any other interesting adult outreach programs at Canadian science centres? Let us know by tweeting us at @cdnsciencepub

Jenny Kliever is a science communicator with a passion for the physical sciences. She completed a Bachelor of Science in Physics at the University of Guelph and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication at Laurentian University. She is currently working in communications for the Canadian Association of Physicists while also studying Spanish language and dancing on the side (because why not?).

Filed Under: Science Communication

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