An Interview with Discovery Centre – Nova Scotia’s Hands-On Science Centre

We had the incredible opportunity to chat with Jennifer Punch, Chief Executive Officer of the Discover Centre, where we discussed the creative and practical aspects, and history of the Discovery Centre located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Join us as we uncover the fascinating inside scoop on their mission, their captivating exhibits, and the incredible impact they have on the local community. Get ready to embark on a journey of discovery!

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Can you give us an overview of Discovery Centre’s mission and the role it plays in the Halifax community?

Discovery Centre aims to bring STEAM to life through fun and interactive learning experiences. The not-for-profit organization has been a pillar in the Halifax community, delivering hands-on fun with science for over 35 years. With the recent opening of its expansive waterfront location, Discovery Centre has been able to expand programming in the centre and outreach across the province.

The Discovery Centre has come a long way since its inception in the 1970s. Can you share some key milestones in its journey to becoming the state-of-the-art facility it is today?

In the 1970s, Dr Gerhard Stroink started developing interactive science exhibits and demonstrations as part of Dalhousie University’s open-house events. So popular with the public, Dr. Richard Goldbloom, and local entrepreneur, Liz Crocker joined forces with Stroink, with the idea of establishing a true science centre, where the wonders of STEAM could take permanent residence in the hearts and minds of Nova Scotians. 

They and other volunteers continued to create new and exciting science experiences, and eventually, the group found their way onto the road, as a travelling science show hustled out of the back of the van, bringing unique participatory science programming to communities around the province. 

With growing interest and support, the burgeoning Discovery Centre registered as a non-profit society in 1985, as a charitable organization in 1989, and in 1990, finally acquired the support they needed from the government, private sector, and community to move operations off-road and into its first home in a 5000 square foot location in Scotia Square, Halifax. 

Five years later, the Centre grew into a larger location on Barrington Street and became a fixture of the city’s downtown for 20 years, exposing locals and visitors alike to the exciting curiosities of STEAM with its remarkable exhibits, facilitated programming, curriculum-based workshops, and educational outreach. In 2010, CEO Dov Bercovici forged ahead to advance the Centre to a state-of-the-art facility and provide Halifax with a world-class cultural and educational icon.  

After a successful 24 million dollar capital campaign, the Discovery Centre opened its dream location in a LEED Platinum-certified building on the Halifax waterfront in February 2017. Four stories high with over 40,000 square feet of space, the Centre is the newest science museum in the country, boasting cutting-edge experiences, innovative galleries, and incredible exhibits from around the globe.

What are some of the unique features and exhibits that make Discovery Centre stand out among science museums in Canada?

Similar to other science centres across Canada and in the US, Discovery Centre’s exhibits and programming span all aspects of Science. Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math. Some of the unique features of Halifax’s Discovery Centre include the Murphy Ocean Gallery, which is home to topics like the Water Cycle, Climate Change, Ocean Exploration, and Marine Ecosystems. The Ocean Gallery provides a deeper understanding of how the ocean impacts us and how we impact the ocean, locally and at large. The Dome Theatre is a 65-seat accessible theatre with 4K laser projection and Digistar 7’s advanced operating system. Visitors can experience Dome Films or Live Star Shows that explore the curiosities of our planet, nature, or dive deep into the ocean’s wonders all from the comfort of your seat. Families and students in the Michelin Innovation Lab can tinker with code or turn a circuit into a work of art! It’s a space for exploring new ideas and rethinking old ones, all while developing the skills that drive innovation. Last but not least, RBC Someday Street is a magical place for toddlers and young children to imagine, invent, discover and learn in a safe, full-bodied play environment. Here, kids engage in immersive play in a variety of settings. Parents can jump in and play along or sit back, relax and watch the fun unfold in the visitors’ lounge.

The Centre’s CEO, Dov Bercovici, played a significant role in advancing its facilities. Could you tell us more about the vision and goals behind the move to the LEED Platinum-certified building on the Halifax waterfront?

Dov Bercovici has been President & CEO of Discovery Centre for the past 16 years and was essential to securing the funding and partnerships necessary to bring the new waterfront location to life. Since its opening, Dov has entertained many international groups interested in the Halifax model. This interest inspired the creation of Discovery Centre International, which consults on the design, building and operation of science and cultural facilities and exhibits for groups worldwide.

How has Discovery Centre been engaging with the local community and schools to promote STEAM education and inspire curiosity in young minds?

Discovery Centre’s curriculum-connected workshops have been a staple in Nova Scotia schools and community events for over 35 years. Today, that includes several teams and vehicles visiting curious minds across the province, delivering fun, interactive programming on topics like climate science, engineering, bridges & structures, chemistry, geology and electricity. Today, their science on the road teams are also delivering programming inspired by their GenAction program, a national initiative to inspire over 200,000 youth to climate action by 2025. Discovery Centre’s educators provide a variety of virtual programs to communities as far away as Northern Canada via the Connected North organization.

Can you highlight some of the most popular educational programs and workshops offered by The Discovery Centre for both children and adults?

One workshop popular with grade three students called “We’re Wheely Moving” has always been a favourite, teaching the basics of motion, and students always leave with a car made from recycled materials. Discovery Centre educators also perform an awesome whole school demo called Colourful Chemistry, where students learn about the brilliance of chemistry as they explore pH indicators, how fireworks get their colours and the magic of combustion. 

But why should the kids have all the fun? Team building workshops for adults and corporate groups have also become popular at Discovery Centre. With themes like Building the Suspense, A Windy Problem and Communication Breakdown, groups can have fun as a team outside the office and work together to solve challenges that help with communication skills and building corporate culture. 

The Centre has welcomed approximately 2 million visitors so far. What impact has it had on fostering innovation and scientific curiosity in Halifax and beyond?

Ultimately, the goal of Discovery Centre is to make science and related topics approachable for young people in the hopes that they will consider careers that continue to be in demand. In recent years, specific efforts have focused on underserved and underrepresented communities to ensure they have the same access and opportunity to experience STEAM education. These groups also represent opportunities to fill STEAM skills gaps in areas like Green Careers, Engineering, Software Development and careers in Technology. 

In what ways does Discovery Centre collaborate with local businesses, foundations, and agencies to support its initiatives and maintain its not-for-profit status?

Public and private business partnerships are critical to Discovery Centre’s success. Whether it’s through our sponsored themed galleries or programs like GenAction, Discovery Our Climate, Why Immunize?, Trusted Voices and more, Discovery Centre solves societal problems and develops and delivers educational programming in the Centre and across the province with help from partner organizations. As a not-for-profit with very little government funding, these partners enable their work to continue and bring important topics to Nova Scotia families.

What can visitors expect from upcoming events and exhibitions at Discovery Centre, and how can they get involved in these activities?

Discovery Centre has prided itself on delivering unique experiences visitors can’t find anywhere else. From sloths, vintage video games, and climbing walls to giant mazes and puzzles, Discovery Centre has made many memories for Nova Scotian families. 

Next month, its featured exhibit HOCKEY: Faster than Ever will open February 10 – September 4, 2024 and bring 5,000 sq feet of hockey experiences, including slap shot time testing, an NHL locker room experience and historical gear. In Fall 2024, World of the Night will amaze visitors with the science of light and darkness. And next Winter, Discovery Centre will welcome a new family of dinosaurs in Dinosaur Explorer.

In addition, adult events like Level Up Gaming, Winter Carnival, Dino Disco and Science of Beer attract new groups to Discovery Centre who prefer an after hours, kid free environment. Stay tuned for future events. 

Finally, looking ahead, what exciting plans and initiatives does Discovery Centre have in store for the future, and how can the community continue to support its mission?

March break is always a highlight of Discovery Centre’s year when locals and visitors make it part of their vacation plans. Staff love to see visitors from near and far and enjoy their special programming meant to delight all members of the family. Discovery Centre memberships are a great value add and economical way to visit as many times as you like all year long, not to mention get special discounts and exclusive perks. Memberships, donations and purchases at the Discovery Shop in person or online all help fuel the next generation of curious minds.

Overall our interview with Jennifer from the Discovery Centre has provided valuable insights into the institution’s commitment to promoting discovery and learning. It is clear that the Discovery Centre has a vital role in inspiring the next generation of scientists, innovators, and problem solvers.

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