Research Museum: Opening of the “Knowledge Forum” in Göttingen

After ten years of construction and planning, the Knowledge Forum will open to visitors for the first time this Pentecost weekend in Göttingen. With more than 1,500 exhibits from the University of Göttingen’s collections, those interested can learn how research works in various disciplines. The main exhibition of the new science museum “Rooms of Knowledge” has been designed for about ten years.

After long delays in the construction phase, the opening of the Knowledge Forum inadvertently strikes the zeitgeist, said Marie-Luisa Almayer, project manager. “Science no longer has any inherent power and must explain itself to the public.” The new museum wishes to meet the urgent need for insights into research and the process of knowledge creation. “We want to make the science understandable here,” Alemeyer said.

Above all, knowledge must be experienced on 1400 square meters of exhibition space. Digital elements also play an important role here. So-called NFC chips can be found in about 70 exhibits. It can be read using compatible smartphones and the associated app, as visitors discover in the so-called introduction to the exhibition. In this way, they receive different opinions and ratings for the respective exhibitions.

Alemeyer explained that this should make it clear that despite well-established knowledge, “there is not only one truth” in science. Other multimedia elements are films about working methods in science or digital objects that can be collected via NFC chips for further knowledge.

High speed search experience

Since knowledge and research as such are the focus of the museum, individual exhibition rooms are not divided according to disciplines or eras. According to the exhibition title, visitors are directed through several suitably furnished rooms where knowledge is generated: the ‘office’ is actually an office with a large size laptop and notebook, in the ‘lecture hall’ visitors come across the marked amphitheater with workstations.

From laboratory to field research, all aspects of scientific work must be presented and the similarities between different disciplines illustrated. There is also a place for less obvious areas of research: laboratory personnel are honored in films or the subject of research funding is given its own exhibition space with the “market”.

Controversy and debates are also given a stage. In the lead up to the event, there was a public debate about the amount and form of scientific criticism offered. Now, in the second exhibition room, the Knowledge Forum deals with former human researcher Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who examined human skulls. Bones not displayed in the museum are still owned by the university today. Allemeyer said this kind of research can be important, right or wrong, and disrespectful toward other cultures and ethnic groups.

In the middle of the gallery, in the largest room on the tour, it’s all about discussions. In the glass chairs hanging from the ceiling, visitors can listen to radio plays with different opinions on historical and current scientific disputes in the so-called salon. Colored light globes hanging from the ceiling and historical portraits on the walls illustrate the continuation of scholarly debates.

Failed research projects on the “wooden track”

With “Holzweg” an entire room is allotted to the search failure. “The number of examples in this area should continue to grow,” said project manager Allemeyer. “Instead of scolding, we want to emphasize the courage to take risks in research.” Failure is an important part of developing knowledge and should be allowed.

The limits of documentation are illustrated in the “library” in a four-meter-high book tower. For example, the story of a historical library is told in Göttingen. As an alternative to the University of Göttingen’s library, it focused on feminist topics that are difficult or not at all found in the university. The issue of censorship is dealt with here as well.

The Forum for Knowledge is already the third science museum in Göttingen. The Academic Museum has been open on the university grounds since 1773. After 140 years, the Natural History Museum was built near the train station, where the Knowledge Forum is now located in the building. The historic building has been expanded with a glass annex at the back, which houses the Museum Café, among other things. The Zoological Museum, formerly located in the building, will reopen on the second floor as a biodiversity museum from 2025.

Admission to the Museum of Knowledge must be free for at least the next five years. Until then, the facility will be funded primarily through federal and state subsidies. “We’re very happy with that,” Alemeyer said. With more than 1,500 exhibits, the museum is also designed for people to visit the exhibit multiple times.

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