Modular science centre exhibits - Encouraging Small scale exhibit developers

  • Posted on: 25 January 2011
  • By: dave
Would it be possible to enable a wider range of people to build exhibits, so increasing the innovation in the area and possibly reducing the price.

On the BIG-chat email list it was mentioned that it would be good for science centres if there were more small scale exhibit developers building more exhibits for them, so this got me thinking - I am probably in the position of a potential small scale exhibit developer, what is stopping me developing exhibits for science centres?

There are a load of things like time, insurance, competence etc. but on a practical level I think one of the biggest problems is tables.

Why are tables such a big issue?

  • Making a decent table is a difficult thing to do, it is some people's whole job.
  • Modern science centres are so shiny and 'designed' that if I made something it would look wrong
  • And they are boring to build, I would rather be doing something else.

I would have thought that they would be an issue for the science centre as well:

  • They are big and bulky so difficult to store
  • They mean that if you borrow an exhibit from another science centre they ruin the look of your centre
  • There are always broken exhibits on the floor while they are waiting to be fixed.

This must be having a negative effect on visitor experiences as it reduces the churn rate of exhibits, so reducing the revisiting rate.

As I compulsively invent thing I think I have a solution to some of these problems

Modular tabletops

The idea is to make plinths to suit your science centre with a standardised cutout on the top. Ideally this would be a standardised size and shape between science centres. There could be more than one standard size but I doubt it would be worth it.


You could have different designs of plinths some could just be a table top, but this would probably be the most flexible, this way the exhibit can go all the way down to the ground if it had to. You would also include as many services as possible in the plinth like power and internet connections.

This means that all I have to do is make a flat thing with an exhibit in it

This would require a much lower level of construction technology than the whole plinth, it also means that I could build four identical exhibits for four different science centres.

The really neat bit for the science centres though is the fact that they now have effectively hot swappable exhibits, if something goes wrong you just unbolt one exhibit and bring out a spare one from storage, and as you could now fit up to 10-12 exhibits in the space of a server rack

You can keep lots of spares, so minimising the number of exhibits that aren't working on the floor.

It also has another advantage, that if you don't trust me to build it very kid proof the first time, you can safety check it put it on the floor, and then when it breaks swap it back out for something else, making prototyping easy without ruining the look of the centre.

It wouldn't work for all exhibits by any means and there are probably huge problems I haven't thought of, or someone else is already doing it but there you are.


After a discussion on BIG a few existing possible standards came up:

A very neat plastic box based modular top from Australia - would be good to standardise on something like this in a centre as you can then take stuff out on outreach easily.

Techniquest have a quarter circle based one which looks nice but is less flexible.

A low cost South African version on standard plastic boxes again

Several of these could be worked into what I was suggesting quite easily, and I really like the ability to use the same kit in the centre as on the road. The only disadvantage is the lack of symmetry in the boxes might challenge the interior designers, but that is probably good for them.