Tom Tits Experiment

Klas Fresk

leader of science, art and teaching at Tom Tits Experiment

Tom Tits Experiment

Storgatan 33 SE-151 36 Södertälje Sweden

www.tomtit.se

Cultural heritage in thought and deed

The idea behind Tom Tits Experiment came to me at a conference 25 years ago. The head of the Ontario Science Center was showing slides where people were having a great time with activities that I recognised as the building-blocks of physics teaching, educational principles such as "conservation of momentum". It seemed the natural sciences and technology could be both appealing and enjoyable at one and the same time. It's all about the packaging. Within the framework of the school, these subjects often have a poor reputation. As a teacher, that was something I wanted to change. Here was something that I'd been searching for since my dream as a 12-year-old of one day becoming a teacher.
Tom Tits Experiment is primarily a pedagogical project. As such, we want to serve as a complement to the school and the formal learning process. We work within an educational tradition with roots in the Enlightenment's popularization of knowledge, open-mindedness, anti-authoritarian and anti-dogmatic principles. It's all based on a belief in the individual's own sound common sense and abilities.

The Micheletti Award 2006 has meant a lot for Tom Tits Experiment. The award has attracted the attention of the Swedish media and has given us both added encouragement and increased pride in our operation. The award opens the door to child-focused museum activities and to simplicity and playfulness. It broadens the appeal of the museum when an institution of this type receives such a great award. We put the spotlight on cultural heritage in the areas of the natural sciences and technology, not primarily in the form of the objects themselves but rather the ideas behind them. 

When in the run-up to the Linnaeus tercentenary celebrations we show Carl von Linnaeus' "floral clock" it is the ideas behind it that are the main focus, not what it might have looked like back in the 1700s. The plants' movements in the floral clock reflect the time of the day and give the visitor pause to reflect on how potted plants behave at home. The copy of a "letter" in Christopher Polhem's mechanical alphabet allows the visitor to test how it is possible to alter the direction of a movement. The original version of Polhem's alphabet is part and parcel of engineering cultural heritage and is stored away at the National Museum of Science and Technology.

Tom Tits Experiment was launched in 1987 in a room measuring 480 square meters and is a kind of science center. Visitors can participate with all their heart and soul - and bodies - in thought-provoking play and hands-on activities, all summarized in the expression "hands on - minds on". The operation has expanded by 500 to 1000 square meters a year. Today, Tom Tits has 20,000 square meters at its disposal, half of it in the form of an open-air park. The exhibition displays 400 experiments in the areas of biology, physical geography, physics, chemistry, technology, mathematics, ecology and health.

Tom Tits Experiment is located in Souml;dertauml;lje in a factory building formerly used for the manufacture of centrifuges and separators. It is now part of the council's and the nation's infrastructure for education and tourism. We have been receiving a state grant for many years now. Backed by mobile exhibitions and books, we are able to reach out to the entire country. This year we will also be visiting Egypt, Poland and the USA.

The name Tom Tits Experiment comes from a French book dating from 1896 entitled "La Science Amusant par Tom Tit". The book itself is part of cultural history. One marvels at the graphics, for instance the illustration entitled "Against the Wall", and at the accompanying texts! The experiments still work. The simple and playful atmosphere created in the book blends attractively with historical perspective and a scientific approach.

from "Tom Tits Experiment - Scientific Fun", Stockholm 1898 (The text and picture describe what happens to the poor man as a result of moving his body's center of gravity. He cannot get up unless he puts the stool down. He's quite simply up against the wall.)

One new development is the ability to influence the entire city center's layout. This means that the Tom Tit business approach, which is based on curiosity, surprises and keenness to experiment, will set its seal on the town of Souml;dertauml;lje. This is a long-term operation with the aim of creating an experience "at every street-corner" for everyone visiting the town. The Tom Tits exhibition and operational idea can in this way benefit more people and will help make Souml;dertauml;lje truly unique.

The main Tom Tits sponsors are our visitors and among them, primarily children and women. This may explain the lethargy that has characterized and still characterizes this support. Cultural activities that put the spotlight on children quite simply have lower status. Although public support has been uncertain, often too small and divided, it would not have been possible for us to develop without the support that the council and the state have given us over the years.

Despite all the problems things have gone quite well. The biggest problem was starting up with insufficient funds and without broad-based political support. What was right, on the other hand, was the consistently implemented link between form and content and our focus on children. We have always aimed to create a scenario of fun for youngsters and thus to enhance their enjoyment. We've imposed entry fees from the very beginning. This has given us our own source of income and allowed us to develop into what we are today, bringing us to the point where we are the proud recipients of the Micheletti Award.

Klas Fresk, 18 June 2007