Delivering science in a pizza box

An international PhD student at Victoria University of Wellington hopes to revolutionise guided tours, with the science museum he has created inside a pizza box.

As part of his research, Michele Fontana who, of course, is Italian, will be presenting his portable museum through two guided tours at the Museum of City and Sea this week.

“The Museum of City and Sea is really keen on storytelling and experimenting with new ways of presenting information, so it’s the perfect environment for my research,” says Michele.

The pizza box will contain seven objects, ranging from a petri dish to a deck of cards. Participants will be asked to build their own museum by choosing the four objects they are most interested in and the order in which they wish to explore them.

“First I will ask people what they know about the object—for instance, in high school maybe someone used a petri dish and something went wrong. Then I’ll tell them my story, about Louis Pasteur and how he discovered bacteria and how it’s used for pasteurisation. In this way I try to build and connect everything around the audience.”

Michele has been trialling his interactive method in private homes, and the museum ‘tours’ will be his first experience with larger numbers. He will also test his theory at the Newtown Community Centre and on senior citizens in retirement homes.

“My idea is to talk about science to people who don’t usually go to museums, theatre or talks organised by scientific institutions.”

Michele says he has interviewed a variety of tour guides in Wellington in the course of his research, including guides in museums, Parliament and libraries. He has found that although tour guides tended to feel undervalued within organisations, the experience they offer often leaves the most lasting impression on visitors.
“A good guided tour can influence your perception of the institution more than the exhibition itself.”

In future, Michele aims to put the results of his research into practice by developing effective programmes for museum visitors.

Michele’s PhD is divided between Theatre Studies and Museum Studies. He has degrees in Environmental Science (BSc, UNIMIB, Italy) and Science Communication (MSc, Imperial College, United Kingdom), and a background working in theatre and visual arts. In 2007, he won Prova d’Attore, an Italian national contest for actors.