Award winning gallery takes the mystery out of climate science

The Science Museum Group demonstrates its excellence in audience research by demystifying a complex and controversial subject in an award-winning new gallery.

The award-winning Atmosphere gallery helped to demystify the tricky subject of climate science this year thanks to the Science Museum's unique approach to researching and understanding its audience.

Despite indications beforehand suggesting that most people had a limited understanding of the subject and thought it difficult and dull, the gallery attracted 737,000 visitors during its first 12 months.

The gallery's success is largely due to the way it was researched, and what emerged was a new model for displays about complicated and controversial issues. Interactive entry points cater for a variety of learning styles, while in-depth content stations allow visitors to dig deeper.

The award-winning Atmosphere gallery at London's Science Museum

Dr Alex Burch, Director of Learning, says “We are at the forefront of audience research because the team is permanent and able to integrate knowledge of the audience into the process of making exhibitions, events and websites.

"Our accumulated knowledge guides our approach to bringing collections alive. Right from conception of a new project, the research team pursues a cycle of testing – from focus groups to assess content approaches, through usability testing of interactives to quantitative and qualitative surveys once an exhibition has opened.

"Where our designers and curators really excel is laying out the tools to overcome those barriers. We found people wanted access to real evidence for climate change and that encouraged us, for instance, to put the Keeling graph on display which shows atmospheric carbon dioxide increasing since 1958, and we animated the curve next to the flask that Charles Keeling used for collecting his samples."

Animated Keeling display at the Science Museum's Atmosphere gallery

The Group is also keen to know that lessons learned from a gallery will have an impact beyond its lifetime. The success of this approach can perhaps be best summed up in the verdict of one adult visitor to Atmosphere, who said "This is a good dinner party topic. Before, I wouldn't have been able to contribute to the discussion, but now I feel able to give my opinion."

Of the Science Museum's astonishingly high quality audience research, Dr Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, said "We are world leaders at understanding what people take from the content of a gallery. It's one of our USPs."