Landmark exhibition venue for Dublin

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TCD is planning a new city-centre building for outreach purposes and to improve public awareness, writes Dick Ahlstrom.

Science outreach takes on spectacular dimensions from mid-2007 when a new science gallery opens at Trinity College Dublin. A large part of the huge glass and metal structure to front onto Pearse Street will be given over to a spacious public gallery for science exhibitions.

The gallery has yet to be named formally, but it forms part of the 6,000 square metre, five storey over basement Naughton Institute, says Trinity's Dr Diarmuid O'Brien.

The Institute will also house Crann (Centre for Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices) Trinity's new home for nanotechnology research. This is the science of the very small, involving the creation and observation of structures measured in atoms.

The overall building is named for a key benefactor, businessman Martin Naughton, who provided €5 million for its construction, says Deirdre Tracey of the Trinity Foundation. This sum is one of the largest private donations yet received by the College, she says.

Now under construction at the corner of Pearse Street and Westland Row, the Naughton Institute is purpose built for nanotechnology, says O'Brien, executive director of Crann. The structure will also house a new sports hall.

The proposed gallery is a new departure entirely and was championed by a future scientific resident of Crann, Prof Michael Coey, says O'Brien. Coey is one of a team of leading Irish and international scientists who will occupy labs in Crann.

The gallery is no afterthought, however. It will claim about a fifth of the building, taking up 1,200 square metres on the ground and first floors facing onto Pearse Street.

It will be a place for exhibitions on science and talks on its impact on society, says O'Brien. He envisages two or three new scientific exhibitions taking place at the gallery per year, along with permanent displays describing advances in science.

The gallery will also become a venue for talks on scientific issues and will have a lecture theatre for this purpose. It will be a place where difficult scientific issues are debated and discussed by the public at large, he adds.

"What we want to do is reflect scientific developments," he says. It will be topical and controversial, dealing with "the science of today, the issues of tomorrow".

Of course there will be displays on nanotechnology, but he sees a wide range of issues coming up for exhibition and discussion in the new centre. During the day the venue would be a place where people can drop in and look at presentations on scientific issues. There will be a coffee shop there as well so a visit can be combined with lunch.

Genetic engineering, stem cells, cloning, new medical advances and modified foods are all topics that could be discussed by the public at evening lectures. "At night we would like to open the place up to controversial issues," says O'Brien. "We would put forward different arguments, different views to inform people."

Overall the new gallery of science would suit a wide range of ages from 15 years and up. It will not be a hands-on science entertainment centre that suits a younger visitor, he says.

Naming the new centre is more difficult than expected, O'Brien admits. He wants two-way traffic with the public. A conventional gallery provides only one-way traffic, and the new centre is not a museum, which implies history.

"We want to make it relevant for people, to make people understand how science impacts on their daily lives. We are a forum to advance that," he says. "We are a very open space and we would look for many ways to bring people in. We would see the gallery making a contribution to Ireland Inc."

He believes that schools will be a key group for daytime visits as well as tourists. He expects Crann to be added to the selection of attractions on the Trinity campus.

Funding for the centre has come from a variety of sources. "It is a public-private partnership, so we are looking for some Government funding," O'Brien says. The college will also use its own resources and the research component of the centre has benefited from Science Foundation Ireland support via scientists who will be based at Crann.

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