Demystifying science

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Every New Zealand school child learns the story of how Maui hauled up the North Island using a fishing line and a hook fashioned from his grandmother’s jawbone.

Today, his line is being set into the bricks and mortar of a new building, and into the philosophy of a rather unusual project.

Capital Discovery Place, Te Aho a Maui (Maui’s line), is a science centre. It is part of the world-wide boom in centres which seek to widen understanding of science and technology. Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, India, France, Denmark, Finland, Canada, the United States all have similar facilities, with interactive exhibits and programmes that undo some of the mystery which many people associate with science.

These overseas centres tend to follow a common pattern, but a few have chosen not to simply buy off-the-shelf exhibits. Discovery Place, which is being built next to the Michael Fowler Centre in downtown Wellington, is one of these. When it opens in spring, 1992, it will provide a strong New Zealand focus, with science treated as part of everyday life, and linked closely to arts and culture.

The nearly-completed building already displays this intention. The two architects—Ian Athfield and Rewi Thompson—have developed a design which has Maui’s line stretching as a braided path across the roof and cutting through an eight-metre mountain and anchorstone before fraying out into a paving pattern and lattice of ropes sup­porting sails over the entrance ways. The moun­tain will be tipped by greenstone.

Inside the building there  will be a number of themed exhibits. The tuatara is a starting point for an envi­ronmental exhibit which focuses on biodiversity and the restoration of our off­shore islands. Visitors will be able to see live tuatara, and will have the chance to join a field trip.

Plans are being made to link a number of computers into various information and learning networks—both throughout New Zealand and overseas. Casual visitors can ex­change messages with an electronic penpal, while school groups may work on a common research project with their peers in other countries and then pool their results via the compu­ter. A confidence core, a structure which moves children through physical and intellectual challenges, will link into a bodylab where they can measure and monitor their own body’s performances.

Visitors to Te Aho a Maui can throw in their fishing lines and haul up their own new discoveries

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