In 2019, COSI was in tears, selling more tickets and getting more charitable support than ever. “We lived our dreams,” says Frederick Bertley, director of the Columbus Science Museum.
Then, in March 2020, everything changed. The Scioto Peninsula attraction closed its doors because COVID-19 emerged as a public health threat and those doors remained closed for the next 15 months, which is longer than any other Columbus cultural facility. As a scientific organization, the museum may have had more responsibility to follow the instructions of medical experts. In addition, Bertley’s personal background – she is an immunologist with experience in developing vaccines for retroviruses – has increased the need. “I can’t open up and act like I don’t know the information,” Bertley says.
Read more:COSI has been selected as the “Best Science Museum” for the third consecutive year at USA Today
Not surprisingly, this decision had serious economic consequences, including the resignation of employees due to lost income (COSI relies more on ticket sales than other cultural institutions). But the pandemic has also opened up new possibilities, one of which was unveiled on the world stage this week.
At Expo 2020 in Dubai – the world-delayed COVID-19 fair that concluded this week – Bertley joined NASA colleagues to highlight a pandemic-inspired educational partnership: NASA Learning Lunchbox. This scientific kit was one of the few developed by COSI over the last two years, an initiative to change the game for the institution. So far, the museum has distributed more than 100,000 collections, the number of which could increase to about 300,000 by the end of 2022. The museum has also conducted scientific experiments with various people and institutions, including the U.S. Department of Energy, Virgin Hyperloop and Miss America 2020 Kamil Schrier, a biochemist who competed for her talent.
The pandemic period began as a way for COSI to meet the deeper educational needs. After adding more digital content to help teachers in teaching science while school buildings were closed, COSI moved to home kits and all materials for schoolchildren to conduct five research experiments in one box. These products were self-employed and COSI quickly developed versions around topics such as space, water, the human body, dinosaurs, nature and energy. The museum has also begun raising funds for the project – first locally, from the city of Columbus and Franklin County, followed by other Ohio municipalities and the federal government.
“We had a huge government impact,” Bertley says. “We’ve been in all 611 school districts, affecting more than 30,000 readers. We’re in all 88 provinces, and we’ve been in more than 160 libraries that provided these collections and content. It was really exciting.”
Although the collections were a creation inspired by the pandemic, Bertley doesn’t want to see them end now that the health crisis has subsided. It is expected to spread widely throughout the United States and even around the world, making use of the show at the Dubai World Event. He says COSI already has a pilot project in Barbados. He also thinks that kits can be a generator of profit. While the original kits were free, she hopes the retail version of the product will become more popular. “We’ve generated a new line of content, a new line of experience and a new line of revenue,” he says.