Go back to article: Science communication in Latin America: what is going on?

Museums, science centres and programmes

Natural history museums and botanical gardens have a long history in Latin America, having existed in the region since the 19th century. Although created with a strong European identity, which some authors argue made them part of a European agenda to exploit Latin America (Sheets-Pyenson, 1988), they had (and still have) an important role in science communication – not only linked to the European interests, but also to a Brazilian agenda – since their research programmes helped to consolidate Brazilian science.

But it was only in the 1980s – decades after they appeared in the US and Europe – that hands-on science centres started to be systematically created in different Latin American countries.

In Brazil the first hands-on science centre, Espaço Ciência Viva, was created in 1982 with the support of the San Francisco Exploratorium. During the following decade, many others were created, resulting from a period of intense enthusiasm for science centres in the region, which have been increasing in number since then. Among them are Mundo Nuevo (Argentina, 1990), Universum (Mexico, 1992), Ciencia Viva (Uruguay, 1993), Espacio Ciencia – Laboratorio Tecnológico del Uruguay (Uruguay, 1995), Maloka (Colombia, 1998), Museu da Vida (Brazil, 1999), Museo Interactivo Mirador (Chile, 2000), to mention just a few.

Figure 3

A toddler runs through a suspended collection of blue plastic strings

Sculpture “Penetrables”, by the Venezuelan artist  Jesús Soto, located in the Park of the Museo Interactivo Mirador (MIM), Chile.

It is not a coincidence that the context of enthusiasm for hands-on science centres in the 1980s and 1990s also saw the creation (in 1990) of RedPOP, the Network for the Popularisation of Science and Technology for Latin America and the Caribbean, as an initiative within UNESCO.

Some very interesting museums have also been developed in Latin America on specific topics. In the area of anthropology, for example, visitors can see the fascinating remains of Inca, Aztec and other ancient civilisations. Mexico, Guatemala and Peru are particularly interesting in this respect.

Figure 4

A large, ancient looking pyramidal temple with steps leading up the front to a doorway at the top

Tikal temple at the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, Guatemala.

Palaeontology is also an area explored by some initiatives in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina, for example – most of them featuring Latin American dinosaurs.

Figure 5

Large model of the head of Tyrannosaurus Rex

Parque Cretácico, in Sucre, Bolivia.

Conservation parks can also be seen throughout the region, including the emblematic Galápagos Islands, belonging to Ecuador, which inspired Charles Darwin to propose his theory of evolution.

However, information on science communication activities is very fragmented – and a significant effort is required to build a picture of science communication in its entirety in the region. This work is currently being undertaken by RedPOP, which is developing a guide to science ‘spaces’ in the region (including hands-on science centres, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums and natural history museums) – a herculean task owing to the lack of previous attempts at mapping the field.

A worrying characteristic that emerges from any survey of activity is a concentration of science museums in the capitals or main cities of Latin American countries. In Brazil, for example, which has the greatest number of science museums and the most complete information about their activities[3] the museums and science centres are mostly concentrated in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. The Amazon, on the other hand, has very few. An important challenge, therefore, is to create mechanisms to better map and record the initiatives of science museums in the regions, besides making them more accessible for the general population. Mobile science centres have a role to play here, and some countries already have them. Brazil is a particularly good example, with at least 20 mobile initiatives around the country – but even here not enough is being done to meet the needs of such a vast region.

In the last decade, Latin America has also seen the rise of science weeks as part of regular science communication activity. Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Colombia are among the countries that have used science weeks to engage different stakeholders and to communicate with their various publics.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/140205/004