One aspect of engaging with space is developing scientific knowledge. Looking at the cosmos can be enhanced by understanding lessons learned from disciplines like astrophysics, planetology, and astrobiology. But not everyone has the opportunity to develop an interest in science. We spoke to Alex Martin, who is devoted to popularizing science and stargazing in unexpected locations. The flagship program of his company Experience Daliona is Sidewalk Science Center. The program’s goal is to increase engagement with and access to educational experiences in local communities. Alex told us about the program’s origins, operations, and ambitions.
What is Sidewalk Science Center?
Sidewalk Science Center is the flagship program of Experience Daliona, my science and education company with a mission to strategize and implement innovative educational experiences. We host Sidewalk Science Center for free, three to five days per week in public parks, playgrounds, beaches, outdoor malls, and other spaces. The goal is to increase engagement with and access to educational experiences in local communities. Experiments currently include physics-based activities, alongside astronomy and telescope nights. In 2021, we want to introduce activities focused on environmental stewardship and local ecosystem observation.
Since July 2018, I’ve had the opportunity to bring Sidewalk Science Center to more than a dozen cities on the east coast. I even took it to Denver and Boulder for a week in October 2019, proving the easy-to-access and versatile format in a variety of locations and situations.
How has the project changed over time and how do you plan to continue evolving it?
Sidewalk Science Center is definitely not the same as it was in 2018. As we continue hiring new educators and offering more programs, I hope that SSC – and Experience Daliona as a company – will naturally adapt to social changes and play a more impactful role in cultivating education and awareness in local communities. Way back in 2018, I was living in Savannah, Georgia and began creating videos by interviewing people on the street about science concepts. That transitioned into doing science experiments – letting people come up to the table and perform experiments of their own as I guided them through and explained basic concepts.
I moved to Florida in November 2018 and restarted Sidewalk Science Center in January 2019, and it’s been going strong ever since. We will hit our 300thsession in March 2021! We also create science kits, provide free telescope rentals, offer at-home events, and work with local organizations, such as the Girl Scouts.
Moving forward, the goal is to continue establishing permanent locations in communities and cities. We want to hire teams of paid educators with diverse backgrounds to work each location. And we want to provide flexibility for educators to rotate between locations and to travel nationally and internationally.
Why do you think it’s important to make science accessible in public spaces?
Making science accessible in public spaces provides a way for people to engage with educational experiences outside traditional or stereotypical settings. I have met families who don’t have resources or time to visit museums. Sidewalk Science Center is free and operates outside normal business hours – this allows for increased access, especially for underprivileged communities where visiting a museum might not be a feasible option.
Visibility in public spaces also puts science and education in the forefront of people’s minds. Studies have shown that interest, not ability, are key factors in positive public perception of science. Building relationships, being involved with the community, and modeling healthy communication help us strengthen our presence. More than that, though, doing all this strengthens interest, familiarity, and trust in the scientific method. Ultimately, this creates incentive and demand for science-based decision-making and policies.
When it comes to science centers, museums, and other institutions, the primary visitors will be people with already well-developed interests. We hope that Sidewalk Science Center’s inherent accessibility will impact communities in both the short and long terms. We hope it will not only inspire interest in science and education but also reinforce and complement other experiences – whether they be at school, at home, or in day-to-day life.