Breaking the spell

Nicola Sullivan, 26.10.2016
Does oil sponsorship take the magic out of childhood wonder?
I recently visited Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery, the new interactive space for children at the Science Museum in London.

It certainly lives up to its claims to inspire wonder and curiosity in children, who play with wide-eyed enthusiasm among the gallery’s 50-plus interactive exhibits, split across seven zones: forces, light, electricity, maths, matter and space.

Highlights include the friction slide, magnetic liquid, heat cameras, a giant rotating model of the solar system, maths puzzles and energetically delivered science shows featuring electricity, explosions and rockets. That’s not to mention a huge laboratory full of live experiments that bubble and crystallise – all explained by a smiling technician armed with beautiful rocks, minerals and beakers of sparkling liquids.

There’s only one thing that might break the spell for some visitors – the fact that an oil company (planning to drill seven new wells in the Arctic) has been able to buy a stake in the imagination and wonderment of a generation, which will see some of the worst effects of climate change. 

A letter signed by more than 50 academics and scientists condemning the sponsorship deal states it is “unconscionable” that in 2016 that a museum of science is “handing a fossil fuel company legitimacy by allowing it to sponsor a gallery designed to inspire the next generation”.

Of course, museums need lucrative sponsorship deals in today’s competitive funding environment. But is it worth doing if the relationship threatens to destroy what is special about museums, which is the chance they give us to make sense of the world and our position in it? 


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03.11.2016, 08:31
Fossil fuel companies gain legitimacy every time you fill your car with petrol or diesel, or use electricity in your homes, or products made from petro-chemicals. I don't see many SJWs willing to give up their creature comforts.