SM takes science from schools to the mall

By Ira P. Pedrasa,

Posted at Aug 18 2014 04:39 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2014 08:24 PM

One of the attractions of Exploreum. Photo: Handout

MANILA - Thanks to astrophysicist and “Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey” host and narrator Neil deGrasse Tyson, science has become cool again.

But for many, science remains as complex as ever. In the Philippines, the situation is more pronounced, given the poor state of laboratories in schools, as well as the low achievement scores of students in both math and science.

According to the Versatile Instrument System for Science Education and Research (VISSER) program of the University of the Philippines, only about 20% of high schools have modern equipment like a computer or an LCD projector.

Faced with the sad state of science education in the country, SM Lifestyle Entertainment Inc. has come up with a project to make science more accessible.

Last Friday, it launched the interactive Exploreum, which allows customers (both kids and adults) to appreciate the practical application and relevance of science in everyday life.

“Science is such a big word… It’s like math. How do we tell kids that it’s fun, that it’s not as frightening?” Nicole Deato, SMLEI’s assistant vice president for educational and leisure centers, told reporters during the launch at the SM Mall of Asia.

Large investment

One of the attractions of Exploreum. Photo: Handout

Deato admitted that she herself used to be “allergic” to science, so she knows what would appeal to non-science fans like her.

“The Exploreum is an immersive experience that will stimulate curiosity and inspire science learning in families by creating fun and memorable experiences. Science is as basic as breathing to the most complicated gadgets and technology we enjoy. At the Exploreum, our goal is to make kids and parents realize the relevance of science and how its practical application is integrated to our everyday lives,” she explained.

According to Deato, the goal is to introduce science to a lot of people beyond what they normally read in books or see on television or the Internet. “The concept is very interactive,” she said.

SMLEI took over the former Science Center last February and infused around P40 million to renovate the entire space at the ground floor of SM Mall of Asia.

Despite the large investment, Deato said SMLEI does not expect a fast return. “It’s an advocacy," she stated. "We know that it’s not as commercial.”

 For instance, she noted that even if SM MOA attracts 500,000 a day in foot traffic, only 300,000 visited the Science Center -- in a year.

But despite the dismal figures, Deato assured that Exploreum won't be “a flash in the pan” even as it tries to capitalize on the popular mall culture, citing a trend in Japan where museums are now located in shopping centers.

What to expect

One of the attractions of Exploreum. Photo: Handout

The Exploreum houses 118 interactive exhibits, dispensing interesting trivia such as the collective weight bacteria in the human body (about four pounds) or the fact that there are more bacteria in the human mouth than there are people in the world.

Visitors can experience their hair standing on end just by touching a ball that creates static electricity. They can also see how a cloud is formed, or even a miniature tornado.

SM also decided to retain the Planetarium, which is the only full dome theater in the Philippines that offers a 180-degree digital screen and advanced audio-visual system. It provides a photo-realistic experience of the night sky or even the entire space.

The Exploreum's Science on a Sphere becomes the moon, then planet Mars. Photo by Ira P. Pedrasa,

A new feature is the Science on a Sphere (SOS), which was developed by the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as an educational tool to help illustrate how the earth's systems work.

 SOS features animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change and ocean temperatures to explain what are sometimes complex environmental processes. It also shows images of the oceans, planets, or even the linkages brought about by social media.

“I wanted a wow factor, I wanted a centerpiece,” Deato said of SOS, which she is particularly proud of.

As such, Deato is confident that Exploreum will cater not only to kids but anyone who wants to learn more about science. New exhibits will also be regularly added so customers won’t get bored.

In addition, Exploreum will also be holding bi-monthly experiments to be facilitated by members of the academe. Scientists will also be invited to hold talks and conferences.

Asked if Tyson could be one of them, Deato said, “We’ll look into it.”