The results from a cross-national study of visits by the public to four large physics research centres in Europe focus on short-term learning and motivational effects produced by such visits. The findings are based on a quantitative study of 3301 visitors questioned before and after visiting the centres. The quantitative study was part of a research project funded by the European Union. Overall, the visitors’ knowledge of the research centres was found to have increased after the visits. With respect to scientific concepts, however, the visitors’ learning is not so evident and consistent. Furthermore, the visits mostly seem to re-affirm visitors’ pre-attitudes and images related to the research centres. The findings imply that these visits, whose design mostly follows the basis of the deficit model, can offer some learning potential and for school students (the majority of the visitors) also the motivation to later engage in a science profession, but in terms of altering visitors’ images they seem rather ineffective. Nevertheless, because of their uniqueness in allowing an authentic glimpse of the production of scientific knowledge for different publics, visits to research centres remain an important public communication activity.
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Federico Neresini, PhD, teaches social research methodology and science, technology, and society at the University of Padua. His main research interests are in the area of the sociology of science, in particular public communication of science, social representations of science, and citizens’ participation in decision-making processes about scientific and technical issues.
Kostas Dimopoulos, PhD, is an associate professor of learning materials in the Department of Social and educational Policy, University of Peloponnese. He also teaches didactics of science at the Hellenic Open University. His current research interests concern the image of science and technology presented by the mass media as well as developing science communication and education materials for nonexperts.
Monika Kallfass is a social scientist and senior researcher at Research Centre of Jülich, Germany. Her research areas include public communication of science and technology and science PR.
Hans Peter Peters, PhD, is a senior researcher at Research Centre of Jülich, germany, and adjunct professor of science journalism at the Free University of Berlin. His research focuses on public communication of science and technology, particularly on the sciencemedia interface.