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The Pennsylvania State University Center for Nanoscale Science, a NSF-funded Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC) and The Franklin Institute
The goal of the partnership between the Penn State and The Franklin Institute is to create hands-on, cart-based demonstrations to introduce materials research to the public. In developing these demonstrations, Penn State brings to the partnership expertise in science and engineering, enthusiasm, raw ideas, knowledge of current research, and fabrication facilities. The Franklin Institute provides complementary resources, with expertise in designing practical, deployable materials that can successfully engage the public in a dynamic museum environment, as well as serving as a testing and training venue. Since the partnership began in 2000, we have created three activity kits consisting of 5-8 demonstrations each, with two more kits planned in the next six years. These kits have been distributed to 45 museums around nationwide, reaching over half a million visitors.
A key factor in making this partnership work has been a clear outline of each partner’s goals. Some goals are shared, such as disseminating current research to the general public, reaching diverse audiences, and providing a nationwide impact on science education. Each institution also gets additional benefits from the partnership – the program creates an opportunity to instill a culture of outreach in all students and faculty at Penn State, while providing unique resources for the Franklin Institute to develop new floor program content and increasing collaboration with other museum partners through the distribution network.
There are inherent challenges in maintaining such a partnership, including the 200-mile distance gap, cultural differences in project management, staff turnover, and the offset between the academic calendar and trends in museum visitorship. Strategies that we have employed to address these challenges include having retreat-type meetings at one location several times a year, defining the scope of each project and its timeline in advance, having weekly phone contact between project leaders, assigning work to people based on their strengths, and most importantly, setting deadlines. While our process continues to evolve as we learn from experience, our goal is to extend this sustainable model of collaboration and branch into new avenues of outreach in the next phase of our partnership.
Jayatri Das, Ph.D.
Senior Exhibit & Program Developer
The Franklin Institute
Ronald Redwing, Ph.D.
Director of Education Outreach
Penn State Center for Nanoscale Science