Chabot Space & Science Center's Touch the Sun Exhibition Summative Evaluation
The Touch the Sun exhibition showcases the stunning state-of-the-art imagery of the Sun captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory and streamed to Chabot in near-real-time. Central to the exhibit is a fully interactive, 90-inch display presenting animations of the Sun's atmosphere in astounding detail. Additional exhibits give visitors hands-on experience with the forces of nature that shape the Sun's behavior. A Ferrofluid exhibit lets visitors explore the interaction between magnetic fields and magnetic material, as with the solar magnetic fields that affect plasma to form features like sunspots. A 20-inch Plasma Globe offers visitors the chance to manipulate the fourth state of matter, plasma, present in the Sun and in every neon sign. Digital drawing stations let users explore detailed solar imagery through the act of drawing features like sunspots and magnetic loops and arcs, producing hand-drawn animations that reveal dynamic change in solar magnetism and the rotation of the Sun.
The “Big Idea” for Touch the Sun: The Sun is a dynamic and ever-changing object in space, and modern scientific observation of it reveals intricate details of its cycles of activity, giving us great insight into the many ways that the Sun's behavior affects the Earth.
The primary purpose of this summative evaluation was to assess the impacts that attending the Touch the Sun exhibition has on casual visitors. In alignment with the National Science Foundation’s Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects (NSF, 2008), the study focuses specifically on exhibit-related knowledge, engagement and attitude. A secondary purpose of this evaluation is to understand how thoroughly the exhibition is being used overall, as well as how individual components are used.
The following research questions guided this study:
1. To what extent do casual visitors to the Touch the Sun exhibition perceive intended messages as stated in the Big Idea?
2. What lessons do casual visitors take away from Touch the Sun?
3. How are the exhibition and individual components used by casual visitors?
4. What about the exhibition and/or which exhibit components generate excitement and awe in casual visitors?
The Tracking and Timing observational study, and the Exit Survey closely follow the study design in Beverly Serrell’s book, Paying Attention. When viewed through the lens of Serrell's 51% Solution analysis, impressive findings about dwell time, use of components, and perceived messages tell us that Touch the Sun is a very effective exhibition for casual visitors. Results of this analysis indicate that visitors are making thorough use of Touch the Sun, and easily recognizing and understanding key exhibition messages.