As it its British Science Week, we speak to the team behind national children’s museum Eureka! about the museum and their Liverpool expansion plans.
At the Eureka! national children’s museum in Halifax, young visitors are greeted in the entrance hall by a statue of Archimedes being dunked unceremoniously into a full bathtub with a splash.
It’s a symbol of how the 25-year-old attraction took its name from the Greek scholar’s exultant cry at making a sudden discovery while immersing himself in water more than 2,000 years ago.
But it also simply demonstrates one of the unique museum’s central philosophies – that learning about science can be fun.
Now curators at Eureka! are hoping to open a second site more than 60 miles away across the Pennines in Merseyside to inspire hundreds of thousands more children about the joys of scientific discovery.
The museum also has plans to expand its site in Halifax.
There is still a perception that science is a bit boring, that it’s about white laboratory coats and safety glasses.
“There is still a perception that science is a bit boring, that it’s about white laboratory coats and safety glasses,” said Eureka! chief executive Leigh-Anne Stradeski
"But we can change that. Science is part of every day life and it’s incredibly important, but it can also be incredibly fun.”
Plans for the museum’s new site next to a ferry terminal at Seacombe in Wirral, on the opposite shore of the River Mersey from Liverpool, are still in their early stages and in need of funding.
But it is hoped the new museum, which would overhaul the existing SpacePort attraction and revamp the neighbouring ferry terminal with £11m investment and create 158 construction jobs, could draw around 240,000 young visitors a year when it opens in 2021.
The scheme dovetails perfectly with Liverpool City Region’s economic strategy, which sees health and life sciences, digital and creative industries, and advanced manufacturing among the region’s key growth sectors.
Manufacturing giants including Jaguar Land Rover, Unilever and Cammell Laird shipyard employ nearly 50,000 people on Merseyside and contribute £3.2bn to the economy.
The region is also one of the UK’s three main life science “clusters”, which is worth £1.7bn and employs around 10,000 people.
Significant skills gap But an official audit in 2016 identified a “significant skills gaps at all levels” in the region compared to national rates.
Statistics like these encouraged Eureka! to take the plunge in setting up a second museum in the area, says Stradeski.
“We’ve been looking closely at how we can reflect the regional strategies for health and life scenes, advanced manufacturing, low carbon and digital and creative,” she says.
“It will be about finding ways of giving children hands on activities to learn about these things.
"They could, for example, learn to operate an assembly line or assemble a wind turbine with a giant crane.
”Hopefully we’ll be able to play our part in addressing the skills gap in the region. It’s about helping them to grow and thrive, raise aspirations and getting the children interested and inspiring them.
“Eureka! is fun and educational, it’s meaningful and and gets children engaged. Even at a really young age, children find this stuff really cool.”
Eureka! ambassador Maddie Moate, a hugely-popular science and education YouTuber and TV presenter, agrees.
“Every child is curious about the world around them and every child likes to play,” she says. “Places like Eureka! offer a positive experience with learning.
”A child is far more likely to remember something from being hands on. They won’t walk away thinking I don’t love science.
"They will walk away thinking I loved that big nose where we learned about the senses or all the mechanics where we learned about cars.“
A number companies in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEMS) are already on board with the new Eureka! project.
Thousands of children in Wirral, which has pockets of high deprivation, will be consulted about the plans.
Engineers, scientists and programmers could be brought in to offer workshops at the museum.
There could also be a tie in with other museums across the river, linked by the Mersey ferry.
Stradeski hopes the new museum could inspire the scientists and engineers of the future.
During a recent visit to the CERN laboratory near Geneva, she was overjoyed to meet a scientist who said he was inspired by visiting Eureka! as a child.
”We know that not every child is going to be a scientist,“ she says. ”But there are lots of fantastic careers in science. “It’s about building children’s confidence and raising the aspirations. After 25 years, our dream remains that the scientists of the future will say they were inspired by Eureka!“