COSMIC CARBON HUNTERS POP-UP SHOP
EUROPAH Network – Marie Skłodowska Curie Innovative Training Network
Background To The Project
In 2016, Graphic Science became an Industrial Partner to an EC funded, international astrochemistry research network called EUROPAH. This partnership entailed us offering an industrial placement to the 16 early stage researchers (ESRs) who were doing PhDs in the network. A typical industrial partner might offer access to high-tech research equipment. Since we are public engagement specialists, our offer was somewhat different. For their industrial placement with us, the young researchers created and ran a popup shop to engage shoppers in Bristol with their science.
Going on a design sprint – developing interactive ways to talk about astrochemistry
We brought the group of ESRs together for a week-long design sprint to generate some ideas for the shop’s contents. They devised interactive exhibits to help them talk about how they had come from all over the world to work together and solve different parts of the puzzle of how chemistry can happen in almost-empty outer space. When the games and activities came together at the end of the week, they seemed a bit like a games arcade, so that’s the idea we started to develop.
Picking a theme
Back in the office, the Graphic Science team wanted to find a theme that would help the astrochemists frame their thinking as they started to make the shop for real. What about Space Invaders? This seemed like a great fit – the concept worked with the games arcade feel of the activities, the simple graphics would be effective even with our limited design skills and 16-bit computer games were experiencing a bit of a revival (in Bristol at least). We didn’t want to infringe copyright, so after a bit more research and some consultation with the ESRs we agreed the shop would become The Cosmic Carbon Hunters.
Our retail unit didn’t feel very inspiring at first – it was hard to imagine it as an exciting popup science venue. But after some lively discussions about content, a lot of emulsion, terrific fabrication skills from Richard Ellam and laying carpet tiles that simultaneously fixed the horrible floor and the terrible acoustic, we’d made a shop! Then the hard work really began as the group spent the week engaging shopping mall visitors with their science and thinking about how to hook their interest and talk about what they were doing in an accessible way.
Impact on Client
The shop gave the EUROPAH researchers wide-ranging experience of devising and doing public engagement. It also got them working as a team to solve problems collectively in contrast to their independent, individual research practice.
There was practical learning too. Some were new to even basic DIY, but in the shop they were using power tools.
“I learned how to work in a team, how to compromise with ideas, trust others and how to create something from nothing.”
LEARNING FOR US
We were expecting a lot from our group of young researchers to design, make and deliver a popup shop. Designing and making 3-d interactive content was far outside their comfort zone and they had to stretch themselves to achieve what they did. Fabrication was the most difficult aspect and ended up almost entirely outsourced to Richard Ellam’s expertise.
We had never run a popup shop before. We were warned that getting people over the threshold was a key shop-keeping challenge and though we didn’t do badly with visitor numbers a bit more programming and some organised visits would have bolstered numbers.