Zona-i. A space to reflect on scientific information

Topic: The Nature of Science Subtopic: Science & Society

Case Study

of an Exhibition

by Francisco J. Franco del Amo

Published on July 01, 2011, Modified on July 15, 2011

  • Description and goals

    A space to reflect on scientific information

    “Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgement, the manner in which information is collected and used”
    Carl Sagan (1934-1996), American astronomer, exobiologist and science communicator

    Vast amounts of science news is made public today through a multitude of channels: television, radio, Internet, books, magazines, news agencies, research agencies, blogs, science centres etc. There are hundreds of agencies in every country that communicate science, and all of them talk at the same time.

    So much so that people are finding it difficult to process and digest all the scientific information they receive. Not only that, but all the informative noise means they cannot distinguish significant news from what is irrelevant, the true from the false. In many cases, especially in the fields of health and the environment, news comes together with “duties”, “sins” and “penance”, which means the task is emotionally even more overwhelming. We could say, as far as scientific communication is concerned, that there is more noise than music.

    The exhibition we are building aims to help visitors improve their critical sense and skill to tune in to the right wavelength in the midst of the fray of scientific information.

    The exhibits of Zona-i

    Word chains

    Dozens of marine words all chained together take up a length of 90 metres around the i-Zone skirting board. All the words chosen are related to marine news and the room’s educational and museum keys.

    Visitors can play at discovering the words hidden in the chain.

    The marine word chain also holds a little conceptual code: given that the room is organic and is devoted to scientific information, the word chain could also be its own DNA chain.


    This environment can work in three different ways:
    a. As a space for visitors to join in science workshops and activities, live and under the supervision of a monitor or scientist.
    b. By providing news on a microblog about daily activity at the Aquarium Finisterrae (visits, the educational programme, research projects, biology …). We would thus recover the “Logbook”, a periodical publication that was distributed in the Aquarium to provide news about what was done there.
    c. By projecting images generated in the room’s “TV studio” in real time.

    Science workshops will allow visitors to discover for themselves the result of research projects related to the ocean. Scientists who work at Galician research centres will run some of the workshops, and at the same time they will learn about science communication.


    Relevant scientific news will be selected each week because of its quality or impact on people’s daily life, and then presented to the public on a large screen on the way in to the room. The headlines can also be read on a sliding sign hanging from the roof.

    News will therefore be given in two different formats, one to read quickly and the other to go deeper into the content, to satisfy both people who are impatient with reading and those who prefer to receive more information.


    This module is conceived as a question and answer competition called “Choose and Change”. On a large screen on the wall, visitors are asked a question and given four possible answers to choose from. The questions concern scientific news that affects people’s daily lives.

    Each answer has its own colour and visitors have 50 seconds to choose their answer by using the buttons on the interactive desk in front of the screen.

    When time runs out, a computer calculates the answer chosen by the majority of people. The light in the room then changes according to the colour assigned to this answer.

    This is a way of showing people that in the field of conserving the environment, their opinions and choices matter and have an influence.


    The purpose of this module is to show that the information published in the mass media can be interpreted in various different ways, depending on who receives it.

    Visitors are provided with a brief description of a marine object and then invited to draw it by sliding their finger on a large touch screen. The visitor’s graphic response is then projected onto a wall on a larger scale.

    The start screen enables you to select either the “Beginners” or the “Advanced” version. The advanced mode has descriptions for adults, while the beginner’s version has riddles about marine objects so that children can learn to draw the object hidden in the riddle.


    Many discoveries took place because somebody was capable of thinking about and seeing the world in a different way.

    “The real journey of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes but rather of having new eyes”
    Marcel Proust

    This module shows two different points of view for observing and interpreting an aquarium. “The aquarium you see” is the vision from outside the water, in other words what visitors see when they are in our rooms. “The aquarium you don’t see” is the unusual vision of someone in the water, looking at everything happening all around him.


    Visitors can play here at having their “moment of glory” on television by broadcasting scientific news to other visitors in the Aquarium.

    They go in to the i-Zone “TV studio” and press the “Play” button, which starts off a process in which they then have to become a science news reporter.

    The process consists of various different phases. A news reporter reads some scientific news on the outer screen. At the same time, you can see the “backstage” of a TV studio on the inner screen. The floor manager instructs the visitor to go on the air. The visitor has a paper on his desk with the news he has to read – this paper is changed all the time.

    When the visitor starts to read the news, the image of the anchorman disappears from the main screen and is replaced by the visitor-reporter reading his news.


    The last module is a surprise for visitors. He will come across a huge red button on one of the room’s columns saying “Caution” in various different languages. The colour and size of the button invite us to push it anyway, and we hope that a lot of visitors do.

    When they do, they will hear the noise of the system crashing and all the lights will suddenly go out. A few seconds later, a message in two parts will appear on the screens in the room. The first will show the words of English author Horace Annesley Vachell (1861-1955): “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences”. On the second screen there will be a comic strip about the consequences of human activity on the environment. We will choose the strip from international newspapers and renovate it every now and then. This is a way of transmitting a message about our environmental responsibility but without falling into the trap of lecturing people.

  • Development process and challenges

    From the point of view of a museum, this exhibition has been designed as an enormous exhibit; we could compare it to an informative ecosystem, into which visitors come to play, receive select information, carry out activities related to scientific news and above all, to form and emit opinions about scientific matters that affect their daily lives. The architectural design recalls nature; it is built and illuminated with the latest material and technology, giving it an organic and futuristic aspect. It is therefore a pleasant space that generates sensations which make you feel like staying.

    The new room is located in a part of the aquarium where various different transit routes all come together, which means it boasts the same opportunities for meeting and interaction as public spaces like squares and parks. We believe this means you can receive science in a fresh and direct way. It is an open space, the opposite of a closed classroom.

    In order to transmit the idea that in regard to the natural environment, people’s opinions, attitudes and actions are important, the room’s aspect changes depending on the result of public votes. The questions we ask and the proposals we put forward are to make visitors think about science and how it influences their lives or the way they understand the world. We ask a lot of questions and give few answers.

    The room also has a computerised infrastructure, which means we can adapt and update the way it works, the information it has and the questions we ask people. Its content changes and is constantly updated as news comes out.

  • Lessons learned, mistakes we made (and what we did about them)

    The Zona-i includes various museum ingredients that we have successfully used on other occasions. People take part in defining room content with their questions and opinions. This is the focus we use, for instance, in the Maremagnum Hall modules at the Aquarium Finisterrae. Furthermore, scientific news is incorporated into room content almost in real time. We have used this in other projects like the Words of Science exhibition and the Monographs on Science Communication. Finally, content is presented as close as possible to people’s daily lives.

    “One of the basic lessons when you want to connect with people is that people are basically only interested in what affects them locally or personally. So we have to take general or global matters and make them significant locally, ‘glocalising’ them”.

    Alan I. Leshner, Executive Chairman of AAAS and Executive Editor of Science, in “Scientists and Science Centers”, Dimensions, November/December 2010.

    Finally, the resources people can use in the room are exclusive to science centres. Here you can do things you cannot do at home, whether because it is something complex or because of the technology involved. Each module is based on something visitors can do by themselves or in a group. Actions are related to things we enjoy doing: playing, doing things together, having opinions, finding out and seeing new things, being aware of what happens around us.

  • Exhibition Opened: March 2010

  • Exhibition Still Open!

  • Traveling Exhibition: No

  • Location: A Coruña, Spain

  • Estimated Cost: $100,000 to $500,000 (US)

  • Size: 1000 to 3,000 sq ft.

  • Other funding source(s): Spanish Government Grant

  • Website(s):  http://mc2coruna.org/aquarium/

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