Experiences as a mediator at Elements

by Gauri Gharpure

I recently had the opportunity to mediate at Elements, Science Gallery Bengaluru’s first pop-up exhibition, partnered with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) and Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR) in October 2019 to marked the 150th anniversary of the periodic table. It featured a variety of exhibits and events to engage the visitors and highlight the nuances of the chemical elements that make up everything around us.

Mediating involves conversing with the visitors about the exhibits, including the concepts and ideas behind them. The conversation can go in many different directions depending on the visitors’ experience and interests. This kind of engagement enables the visitors to engage in with the exhibit in a more intimate way and thus, is a very useful tool to make science accessible for all.

My experience during mediating encompassed the same ethos as above. The visitors were from a variety of economic and educational backgrounds, ages, occupations and so were the questions they asked. While some were curious about the working of the exhibit, some were interested in the implications of science in everyday life. While some visitors preferred walking around, observing minutely, some of them had questions that led to conversations lasting almost an hour sometimes!

But the common thread connecting them all was the infinite curiosity they had. The look on their faces when they “experienced” an exhibit, when they got the answer to a question, or when they involuntarily nodded their heads walking through the space, or when they interacted with fellow visitors: all these were something one hardly gets to see otherwise.

Though all of them were very rewarding, I have a few favourites. One was when a family of grandparents came in with their grandson from the other end of the city because he wanted to learn more about the periodic table. The kid was running excitedly through the exhibition space looking at all the exhibits, while the grandparents hobbled behind, smiling at his enthusiasm. The look of satisfaction on their faces as they sat huddled on the bench definitely overpowered their exhaustion from the travel.

Another one was when, in an experiment demonstrating the effect of pollution across spatial and temporal scales, a 7-8-year old asked me, with eyes big and sad, “How can we solve the problem of pollution, when people don’t listen to us and continue polluting?” It broke my heart to see his anguish but all I could tell him was that change does not happen overnight and we have no option but to continue our efforts, trying to make the world a better place bit-by-bit.

This among many other experiences while mediating really gave me new perspectives as I met so many people from diverse backgrounds. It really helps you to think about how different people approach the same thing in different ways and that is a very rewarding experience indeed.  My only hope is that we, as a community, cooperate and use of collective power to make the world a better place, just like the little boy so optimistically wished.

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