Dublin Science Gallery to Take Vision Global

Science meets art. An image from "Hydrogeny," an exhibit at the Dublin Science Gallery about hydrogen.

Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand

DUBLIN—An edgy Irish center that seeks to merge art and science and get young people hooked on discovery and technology will get a chance to export its model globally. The Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, which opened its doors here in 2008, has received a €1 million gift from Google.org—the software giant's philanthropic arm—to kick-start a network of eight similar centers around the globe.

Dublin's Science Gallery is different from most science centers in that it runs only temporary exhibitions, all of them free, and draws in artists and designers to explore scientific concepts. A group of 50 scientists, artists, engineers, technologists, and entrepreneurs brainstorms twice a year to come up with themes and ideas, which have included contagion, water, and the future of fashion. The formula has proven successful; the 18 exhibitions so far have drawn 800,000 visitors.

Google's donation is seed money, aimed at supporting a network of similar centers for the first 3 years. The plan is to launch two spinoffs by 2014; negotiations are underway with venues in London and Moscow, says Michael John Gorman, the founding director of the Dublin Science Gallery. But the ultimate goal is eight galleries worldwide by 2020, and Gorman has had talks with interested parties in Singapore and New York. Dublin can help with advice on everything from buildings, Web sites, staffing, and programming, Gorman says.

Much will depend on finding funding in each of the locations, however. The Dublin gallery, which cost €12 million to build and has €2 million in annual operation costs, is funded by Trinity College Dublin, the Irish government, as well as and charity and corporate donations.

Part of the Dublin Gallery's success may be its unconventional, experimental approach. At a recent show, visitors could have their blood drawn and watch their white blood cells doing battle against somebody else's. The gallery also aims to be a meeting place: It runs 200 events throughout the year, some in its lively café. "We model our opening hours on record shops. We open the doors at noon and go on to 8 p.m. most days," says Gorman.

"They've done a terrific job of showcasing science to the public in a very accessible way," says Desmond Fitzgerald, a professor of molecular medicine at University College Dublin. "The lectures are outstanding." Visitors can physically engage with exhibitions and the gallery is part of the university while also facing out onto the city, says Fitzgerald, "so it is not separated from the sciences." It is great to see the model moving abroad, he adds.

Gorman sees big advantages in an eight-node network. Currently, exhibitions in Dublin simply disappear; in the future they could tour the network, while Dublin could adopt ideas hatched in other centers. But he is adamant that the new centers retain some of his key tenets. Entrance should be free, the focus must on be 15 to 25-year-olds—an audience that he says is not reached by many science centers—and to function as a "porous membrane" between a university and city; urban locations are vital. And to attract an audience that might otherwise stay home, the centers should seek to bridge science and the world of art and design, Gorman says.