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Macao Science Centre’s ambitious plans to rebrand itself

Macao Science Centre (MSC) is a young institution but it has made great strides since it opened in 2009.

The number of visitors to this modern facility has more than doubled, from 300,000 in its first year to 700,000 in 2013. The centre has 14 galleries covering a wide range of subjects and, more importantly, a state-of-the-art 3D planetarium, which has earned the MSC a Guinness World Records award.

This summer, the International Planetarium Society (IPS) hosted its annual Fulldome Festival at the MSC – a major recognition of the centre’s management and modern facilities.

The centre cost 800 million Hong Kong dollars and covers 20,000 square metres; world-renowned architect Ieoh Ming Pei designed it. With a smart spaceship-like façade, it is the first landmark seen by visitors arriving in Macao by ferry.

The centre’s official mission is to popularise science, provide a platform for science-related exhibitions and conventions and promote local tourism. Through the many activities it has organised, the centre has achieved these goals and is now ready to take another major step forward.

Hon Pan Sio, MSC’s Chief Curator since 2012, explains the business plan for the future. “We want not only to embody traditional concepts of science centres. We also want to incorporate the idea of a theme park to our centre. The MSC is a limited company; we can undertake commercial activities, such as selling exhibits to other science centres.”

Sio quotes the recent example of the highly successful interactive use of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions. “We recently brought the exhibition from Italy to the centre. Then, we improved it, adding more exhibits, translating the content into Chinese and Portuguese and making adjustments to cater to local taste. Later, together with our Italian museum partner, we re-packaged the exhibition and sold it to Mainland China. The repackaging is important, as we need to meet the demands of local people.”

Entitled The Scientific Conceptions of Leonardo da Vinci 500 years and Beyond, the exhibition had more than 60 interactive pieces, including Leonardo’s codices and 16 replicas of his most famous paintings.

Seeing Macao as a window to Greater China, Sio has established numerous collaborations with other science centres, including the Guangdong Science Centre, Shanghai Science and Technology Museum and the Beijing Science Centre. MSC also signed a memorandum of cooperation in 2014 with the Gwacheon National Science Museum of South Korea and established relations with the forthcoming Angola Science Centre in Africa.

These agreements include long-term cooperation between the centres and the possibility of producing exhibitions together and selling them. Only a few months ago, MSC sold a revamped exhibition called Wildlife Photographer of the Year, originally produced by the London Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide, to the Guangdong Science Centre.

MSC tries to use its facilities for commercial purposes too, renting out the whole convention centre, which includes a convention hall that can accommodate 450 people for meetings and 200 people for ballroom events and four meeting rooms. With its three major objectives being education, tourism and conferences, MSC hopes to become a regional tourist attraction merging learning, leisure and entertainment in one place.

“We are creating the MSC brand name with our exhibitions, our education programmes and drama performances. We are not a museum, we are a centre. Museums must keep their collections, but our collections are constantly changing.”

Educational activities

In 2011, MSC created Captain SURE as its mascot. His mission was to teach everyone about science and how it affects our day-to-day lives. “Different age groups have different needs and we must provide what each group finds interesting”, explains Sio. MSC aims to promote theories and concepts that students learn at school in creative and interactive ways.

The MSC currently has 14 galleries open to the public, including the Eco Conservation Gallery, the Food Science Gallery, and − most popular – the Children’s Science Gallery. Besides the MSC’s featured galleries, it often imports special exhibitions from abroad to bring a wider range of topics to the audience.

MSC also has a mechanical workshop in the basement available for educational group bookings. Visitors include professional, architecture and engineering associations and, most commonly, middle school students. Visitors may create their own robotics there, experience laser cutters and use the only 3D printer available in Macao.

Schools are the most important partner of the MSC. “At MSC, we compensate students with what they cannot do at school”, notes Sio.

The world’s most advanced planetarium

One attribute of a good planetarium is its resolution: the sharper the better. MSC has been ahead of other science centres worldwide since 2009, with its 8K-resolution planetarium. “K” is the short form of kilobyte representing 1024 pixels. “Let me simplify it. What is 8K? Your television is 2K, with the most advanced ones being 4K. Here we have 12 projectors, six for your left eye and six for your right eye. Combining all the projectors together, they amount to 8K, the highest in the world. From my memory, there are around 10 theatres that have 8K systems worldwide, but they are all in 2D. At MSC we have 8K in 3D,” explains Sio.

Current programmes include To Space and Back 3D, A Starry Tale and Wildest Weather in the Solar System 3D, lasting approximately 30 minutes. These programmes are broadcasted in Cantonese, with narrations available in Mandarin, Portuguese and English. Open from 10.15am to 5.15pm, the planetarium holds seven to eight viewings each day.

MSC’s innovative planetarium may have been one of the main reasons why the IPS decided to come to Macao. The IPS is the largest organisation of professional planetarians in the world; being affiliated with them has brought great prestige to the MSC.

“Although the major reason for IPS to convene in Macao is our high definition system, we also have the human resources to support the equipment, conference and hotel facilities.” The IPS-Macao International Fulldome Festival 2014 Festival Competition and Award Presentation/Public Screening lasted from 18 June to 31 July.

Attracting over 100 professional delegates including theatre curators and producers, the festival brought to Macao all the best 3D dome shows to share with its citizens and visitors. Aiming to be a regional platform for science education and convention exhibitions, this festival fit MSC’s mission perfectly. “Not only can we show people we have the facilities but we also have the technology.”

Sharing technology and innovation

“Mainland China has around 150-160 full dome theatres, making science a very big market, but they are ten years behind in technology. They need new information systems, new samples for them to know what is happening in the world and what the best systems are,” emphasizes Sio.

During the IPS festival, many delegates came to the MSC to learn more about the newest technology and operational methods. The MSC has created a platform where it can share science concepts with Chinese scientists.

Looking to the future

Sio wants people from Macao and abroad to visit the centre regularly, rather than only once. “In the next few years, we not only want to improve our environment but also our facilities. Transportation is vital to us. In addition to our free shuttle buses to and from the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal, we also want to increase the bus line stops at the MSC. In the future, the light rail will also have a station here.”

Bringing more exhibitions from abroad that closely interrelate with our daily lives is also amongst MSC’s future plans. Having recently brought a Know your Keys and Locks exhibition from Taichung’s National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan, MSC wants to show that mathematics, physics, mechanics and psychology are fundamental aspects of our daily lives.

The first phase implementation of the MSC’s brand name has been successfully carried out; now they are looking to proceed to phase two − portable exhibitions. With this advance, the MSC will be able to bring easily exhibitions to schools and education centres where students can interact and play with the exhibits while learning science elements at the same time.

Sio is well aware of Macao’s rich culture, a blend of Chinese and Portuguese; so the MSC’s five-year plans include adding this vital aspect to the exhibitions. These involve exhibitions on the development of Macao’s geography over the past 20 years and using simulators and interactive programmes to engage with the audience.

The Chief Curator is confident that the MSC has all the potential to be both an educational and business hub, with a mission to promote education and the popularisation of science. He stresses: “The only thing that will not change is our mission − everything else can change.”  (By Mariana Sá/ Photos Cheong Kam Ka/ Macauhub)

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