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Visitor StudiesFront-End Studies

This front-end study was prepared for an October 1997 workshop held at the ASTC annual conference in St. Louis, Chemistry Exhibits That Work.

Contributed by Julie O'Brien, 1997

EXPO, The Children's Museum of Gainesville, Florida, the museum where I am a volunteer does not yet have a permanent location. So, I had to use some creativitiy in determining how to conduct my front-end evaluation. There are three other museums located in Gainesville: a natural history museum, an art museum, and an archery museum. All have relatively low visitor attendance. Rather than survey the visitors of an existing museum in Gainesville, I chose to survey visitors of three local libraries. I have assumed that the demographics of library users is similar to what we at EXPO will have once we attain a permanent location. I did not collect specific demographic information from those who volunteered to participate in the survey. However, in general most of the adults who participated were women with children who they were taking to the library.

The survey was conducted over three weekend afternoons. The survey consisted of three parts: a knowledge survey for adults, an exhibit interest survey for adults, and an exhibit interest survey for children ages 6-12. The knowledge survey was conducted over 1 1/2 days. The adult interest survey was conducted over 1 1/2 days. The children's survey was conducted during all three days.

I would like to note that Gainesville is a community with a large number of college graduates; the city ranks in the top five nationally for number of college graduates per capita. The results which I have collected perhaps would be significantly different in another community. I would also like to add that nearly all of the adults surveyed commented to me that they had taken a chemistry course at some point in their lives.

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Interest Survey for Adults:
The survey was completed by 96 adults over 1 1/2 afternoons at two different libraries. The survey consisted of a list of 16 chemistry exhibit ideas. Participants were asked to rank their interest in learning more about these topics through a museum exhibit. A scale of 1 to 5 was used.

The top three topics of highest interest were:

  1. The Chemistry of Digestion
  2. How Plastics Are Made
  3. How Sunscreens Work

The topics of least interest were:

  1. The Chemistry of a Lava Lamp
  2. The Chemistry of Soft Drinks
  3. What Does the Label Mean? (How to read and understand the labels on common objects such as shampoo and cereal)

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Knowledge Survey for Adults:
The survey was completed by 37 adults over 1 1/2 afternoons at two different libraries. The survey was modified after 15 participants completed the survey to make it easier to complete in five minutes or less. Each survey consisted of twelve questions designed to determine participants' knowledge or feelings about chemistry and chemicals. Most of the results are discussed below.

1. Name three words that come to mind when you think about chemistry.
A total of 57 different responses were given. Common responses (at least three responses by different participants) included element (5), compound (3), atom (5), experiment (4), laboratory (6), molecule (4), reaction (5), science (5), life (3), chemical (3), and test tube (3). Several notable "negative" responses included explosion (2), "synthetic" vitamins (my quotes) (1), dangerous (1), toxicity (1), and poison (1). Nearly all of the responses can be found in an introductory textbook about chemistry.

2. Name an example of a chemical.
A total of 25 different responses were given. Common responses included water (4) and sodium chloride.

3. Which of these items in a car are related to the work of chemists?
Oil (15)
Car seat (5)
Glass (7)
Catalytic converter (11)
Engine (5)
Antifreeze (16)
Lights (5)
Transmission (4)
Gasoline (15)
Dash Board (3)
Leather Seats (2)
Air conditioner (13)
All of the above (20)
None of the above (1)

4. What is the difference between natural and artificial?
(15 responses)
Common responses
Artificial: Created by humans or man
Man Made
Chemically altered
Created from environment
Created or modified by man
Created by man using natural things
Man made in laboratory

5. What was the first thing you used today that is the result of chemistry?
(37 responses with 17 different responses)
Common responses:
Coffee (4)
Toothpaste (6)
Water (4)
Many responses can be classified into three categories: food (10), cleaners (6), and personal care (9).

6. Name something you eat that contains chemicals.
21 responses with 19 different responses; 6 were different forms of junk food

7. Name something you wear that has chemicals.
(20 responses with 12 different responses)
Polyester (5)
Shirt (5)
Other synthetic fabrics (2)
(NO responses of cotton-a natural polymer)

8. Name a way chemistry has improved your life.
(30 responses with 22 different responses)
Categories of responses (number of responses):
Health (13)
Food (7)
Convenience (5)
Other (5)

9. Everything around us contains chemicals.
True 21 False 0 Don't know 1

10. There are no chemicals in our bodies.
True 0 False 22

Interest Survey for Children
The survey was similar to the interest survey for adults. Thirteen exhibit ideas were provided, and respondents were asked to circle the smiley face that most closely resembled how interested they were in learning more about the topic. Three choices were provided: a smiley face, a straight face, and a sad face. A total of 46 children completed the survey.

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The children responded most positively to the following topics:

  1. Chemistry (or science) of soft drinks
  2. How a polaroid camera works
  3. How we smell scents

They responded least positively to:

  1. How cars work
  2. How chemistry improves their lives
  3. Chemistry of food

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