Dr Axel Werner is not a fan of overly designed science museums and believes that science is best understood through every day phenomena and materials. This is because the brain is only ready to learn if people can apply something to everyday life. Curiosity is aroused when we are interested in something. Dr Axel Werner knows that scientific terms, such as thermodynamics, can be daunting and believes that sensory experiences, such as touching, hearing, seeing, smelling and doing things yourself, are the most effective way to learn and understand. Scientific terms are unimportant here. And he tells us that it is precisely for these reasons that he frequently hears the sentence: “I finally understand it” in his day-to-day life.
Extavium’s equipment is deliberately kept simple: “Equipment doesn’t guarantee for knowledge transfer,” says Dr Axel Werner: “You can have the best science exhibition, but its success or failure lies with the teacher who introduces the children and young people to the world of science.”
The Extavium team is a colourful mix of scientists, students, tutors and newcomers to the field of science. For Dr Axel Werner, there are no upper or lower limits as to which age groups Extavium is best suited. Guests are welcome even at a very young age: if they can move on all fours, they can experience static attraction, for example, and see themselves in the mirror from behind. However, most visitors are primary school age. Extavium is also a learning place for the whole family. The oldest visitor was 96 years old and when she left, she said: “I didn’t think I would learn anything new again.”
Dr Axel Werner is convinced that creative learning works when you feel comfortable and when you are not afraid as is the case for some school pupils in mathematics. Information is best stored in the brain when it is filled with positive emotions. And this is what Extavium is all about: joy, trying things out, participating and forgetting time. The numbers speak for themselves: Extavium welcomes around 30,000 visitors a year.
“Basic knowledge and basic understanding are the prerequisites for looking at things in a new way,” explains Dr Axel Werner, for example, how the important topic of environmental protection could also be sustainably implemented. Over 90 exhibits and numerous experiments can be experienced and tried out at Extavium.
Questions such as: “What exactly is in the air?”, “How is our DNA structured?” or “How is a picture created?” are looked into in a playful way.
From the energy bicycle, “Schokoküsse” marshmallow treats in a vacuum, the magnetic hedgehog, a tower of Hanoi and magnetic works of art, a thermal imaging camera, mouse labyrinth through to the explanation of Pythagoras’ theorem using grass seeds in squares: when visitors are asked what they liked best, the answer is usually: “Everything.”
Because of coronavirus, Dr Axel Werner and his team have developed experiment videos based on the desire to create something for children that they can experience at home together with their parents. The instructions have already been downloaded over a thousand times.
Photos © Maren Schulz, Extavium