Life’s New Frontier: Public Health Genetics Phase I/II

  • Project Description

    The goals of the exhibition Genetics: Technology with a Twist are to: 1) Increase awareness of emerging genetic technologies in the field of human health 2) Empower visitors to explore possibilities and make decisions about their personal health 3) Partner with Stanford University to increase communication between scientists and the general public 4) Provide online basic genetics science information to the public

  • Abstract

    The Tech Museum of Innovation and Stanford University School of Medicine Department of Genetics have established longterm partnership to enable the public to draw connections between modern genetics research and choices they face about their health. Together we will develop produce evaluate and disseminate Life’s New Frontier a dynamic exhibition which will inform the public about the goals and methods of modern genetics. Interactive permanent exhibits and guided learning centers staffed jointly by museum educators and by working scientists (predominantly Stanford graduate students and postdoctoral fellows) will take the public into the minds and laboratories of scientists who are revolutionizing biomedical science. The exhibition and associated public and school programs will emphasize the emerging discipline of bioinformatics which is fundamental to the Human Genome Project gene-based diagnosis rational drug design and treatment of disease. Life’s New Frontier will open in the summer of 2003 to reach an estimated 1.5 million diverse people annually through museum and online visitation. It will set a new standard for the treatment of cutting-edge science in exhibitions by establishing an infrastructure that permits rapid changes to exhibit content and creating opportunities for visitors to receive personalized science and health updates after their visit. The exhibition also will serve as a platform to foster continuing personal interaction among middle and high school students Stanford faculty and students and the general public. The Tech/Stanford partnership will be maintained through staff liaison positions at each partner institution and will be evaluated to assess its effectiveness. We hope to extend this model to other departments at the Stanford University School of Medicine and to disseminate it as a model for other science center/university partnerships in biomedical sciences. We anticipate significant outcomes of this partnership: the pblic will be better able to apply the ideas of modern genetics to decisions about their health; and a broad range of students from diverse backgrounds will be inspired to pursue biomedical education and research.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    In addition to the above online resources the Genetics exhibition features the use of TechTags electronic admission tickets which personalize and extend the museum experience by enabling visitors to save snapshots of their visit to a website they can access later on.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    Evaluation for Genetics consisted of both front-end and summative evaluation studies conducted by Randi Korn & Associates as well as continual visitor tracking for the online component. Front-end evaluation was conducted in April 2002. 1) Evaluation goals were to determine how visitors thought genes related to human health and disease how visitors personally connected to genetically related diseases and what visitors’ responses were to case studies involving diagnosis treatment and prevention of genetic diseases as well as their interest levels for various exhibition topics 2) Evaluation design and instruments: Data was collected from in-depth interviews (15-30 min.) with two different audiences ‘ museum visitors and middle school students in an after school program ‘ using card sorts sample case studies and a list of potential exhibition topics. 3) Type of data collected: In-depth interviews yielded descriptive results. Transcripts were analyzed to identify meaningful patterns and trends and interviewees’ categorizations and selections from the list of topics were tabulated. 4) Results of data analysis: From the two audiences 28 interviews were conducted with a total of 55 individuals (adults over 19 years n = 38; children under 15 n = 17). Overall the evaluation indicated that visitors were intrinsically interested in genes and genetic diseases but lacked a basic understanding of how genes influence health. Case studies and ethical debate were intrinsically interesting and motivated learning. Summative Evaluation – The exhibition opened in March of 2004 and data collection was conducted in June and July of 2004. 1) Evaluation goals were to determine how visitors used the exhibition what meaning visitors constructed from their exhibition experiences and what were Stanford University advisor’s and students’ experiences developing and working in the exhibition. 2) Evaluation design and instruments: Data was collected through timing and tracking observations and uncued exit interview with museum visitors. Additionally phone interviews were conducted with Stanford University personnel. 3) Type of data collected: Timing and tracking observation forms allowed evaluators to record stops made time spent as well as specific behaviors observed at each exhibit component. Open-ended interviews encouraged visitors to describe their experiences and share with their interviewer the meaning they constructed from their visit. Stanford personnel were asked to share their experiences and their opinions on the benefits and challenges of museum-university partnerships. All interviews were recorded and transcribed to facilitate analysis. 4) Results of data analysis: Evaluators observed a random sample of 121 walk-in visitors to the exhibition age 9 and older and conducted 50 open-ended interviews ‘ 25 in English 25 in Spanish ‘ as visitors exited Genetics. Overall visitation patterns indicate that visitors spent a median time of 7 minutes in the exhibition and stopped at a median of 5 exhibits. 83% of visitors stopped in the Introduction area and the exhibit with the highest dwell time was the Wet Lab: Experiment Station (median time 10 min.). All interviewees had positive experiences in Genetics praising the exhibition for its educational and interesting content hands-on activities and authenticity. For the majority the most compelling exhibits were those focused on personal stories. When asked what ideas and information they took away from the exhibition most interviewees said Genetics made them more aware of how genetics is interfacing with personal health and grasped the connection between the Wet Lab and medicine noting that genetic engineering is used to make human protein and other medicines. Stanford personnel agreed that the partnership was mutually beneficial allowing The Tech to create a scientifically accurate and innovative exhibition while allowing the scientists opportunities to develop valuable teaching and writing skills as well as serving a community outreach function. Visitor Tracking of Online Exhibition Component – 1) Goals are to monitor trends in online visitorship to the Understanding Genetics website. 2) Evaluation instruments include Google Analytics and NetTracker. 3) Website traffic data collected include number time origin of ‘hits’ and questions received specifically by the Ask a Geneticist website. 4) Results: As of June 2006 nearly 400000 hits at the site were recorded and over 4000 questions have been received by the Ask a Geneticist site from 80 different countries and all 50 states.

  • Resources for Sharing

    The project has online resources: 1) Genetics: Technology with a Twist exhibit description: Companion online exhibit Understanding Genetics features stories online interactives ethics and issues surveys as well as continually updated news pieces and answers for the Ask a Geneticist website:

Project Audience

general public middle school students

Subjects Addressed

genetics genetic technologies human health