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Created on Thursday, 12 January 2017 12:09

Meet our new chairman

Mercury: News from Glasgow Science Centre

After six years under the stewardship of Sir Jim Macdonald, Glasgow Science Centre has appointed a new chairman to lead it forward as it embarks on an exciting future.

Technology entrepreneur David Sibbald brings decades of business acumen to this challenging role. His experience in setting up three hugely successful technology firms, one of which he sold to Cisco Systems in the early 1990s and two of which are still going strong, will help to inform the commercial opportunities for the Science Centre that will help us re-invest more into the Centre.

David Sibbald in front of Glasgow Science Centre
“I like that the Science Centre helps to democratise science. The Centre is more than just a visitor centre – it will draw people through who might otherwise be ‘turned off’ or ‘scared’ of science. I believe that this outstanding venue will play a key role in driving forward education around the need to attract more people into STEM subjects and engaging kids, parents and teachers is part of that.” said David.

“I am interested in why there is, generally, such a low uptake on STEM subjects. Historically, Scotland has a fantastic reputation in this area and with great facilities, through our universities and academia. So, why don’t we have more students coming through to increase the number of people we have working in these fields? Emerging markets in Asia, for example, are focused on bringing the numbers through, so why isn’t Scotland producing more?

“I believe that we need to make science and engineering less elite and make it accessible for all, especially the young. How the wider society engages with science and engineering is important. All fundamental societal changes are based in science – be it food, energy, or artificial intelligence. This participation will have a profound societal impact and economic benefit if Scotland can fully capitalise. That’s why exhibitions such as Powering The Future are vital.”

Visitors get energised in Powering the Future.
Visitors get energised in Powering the Future.

David hopes to move forward the tremendous work achieved by past chairman Sir Jim Macdonald. He said: “I hope that I can pick up Sir Jim’s baton and contribute as much as I can to the mission-focused staff here at the Science Centre. What the board has achieved under the stewardship of Sir Jim is tremendous; securing millions of pounds of funding for new exhibitions, securing corporate partnerships and re-opening the iconic Glasgow Tower amongst them.

“This is a really exciting time to join the team at the Glasgow Science Centre with lots of interesting plans in the pipeline as a visitor attraction and in increasing our corporate engagement. As the Clydeside gets busier, with the Hydro, BBC, STV and the hotels that service them growing, it is important the Centre becomes a prominent part of this location.

“We need to keep the Centre relevant, and I am looking forward to getting my sleeves rolled up to move our plans forward to secure further funding and buy-in from external sources. There are some key areas that the Centre could develop, around food security and genomic medicine for example, and Scotland has a strong industry in these areas where I hope to encourage participation. It is vital that we engage with global industry and link with academics to offer them the opportunity to inform and engage the wider public in their work through the Centre’s skilled science communicators.”

 Really Small Science research group from Strathclyde University take part in the Centre's Meet the Expert programme.
Really Small Science research group from Strathclyde University take part in the Centre's Meet the Expert programme.

Reflecting on how his entrepreneurial skills will help secure the long-term sustainability needs of the Centre, David said: “The Centre’s offering must be attractive and relevant and this requires investment which needs to be funded. We will continue to seek third sector support through organisations such as the Wellcome Trust, but we must also look elsewhere in order to raise funds to invest. The public purse is an important source of income because we can be an excellent tool in supporting the public sector, especially on their policies around education, but the reality is that across the UK public funding is constrained and so business skills are vital to develop commercially relevant propositions. This means attracting corporate and private investment, both large and small scale, to receive funding and collaborate on programmes.

“It is crucial that this balancing act doesn’t mean that the Science Centre becomes an advertisement for large corporate interest – we must always remain independent and be a trusted source to remain impartial and just present the facts. I hope that my business skills can be useful in helping develop the relationships which will see the Centre working in partnership with organisations, and we can bring to life what’s happening at the sharp-end of development and promote what they are doing to hopefully inspire others to follow in their footsteps.”

 Community Learners get to grips with the science of the human body.
Community Learners get to grips with the science of the human body.

As David sits down to his first board meeting, he has a clear vision for the Centre. He said: “My priority for my first year is to grow the Centre’s education and engagement programmes. I want us to have a role in making science and technology less ‘scary’ and more accessible for all – especially young children, high school kids and their parents. I believe that we can be an essential function in driving more people into STEM roles or to study the relevant courses for a future in STEM.

“I would like us to increase our engagement with colleges and universities who would be a vital partner to deliver this. For example, could we sponsor a PHD student to measure the impact of science in 60 seconds of our lives? Or support a post-graduate researcher in communicating what they are working on to students? Or even simply helping these students to work together on projects to inform the public of everyday science? I believe we should build outreach models into schools using peer communication to speak the right language in order to increase the current levels of pupils choosing to elect to study the subjects they are currently engaged in.

“I want to work with the team here at the Centre to create a new set of wider engagement metrics around STEM, in order to understand what is achievable and how we can do that. As chair of the Edinburgh Science Festival, I was proud of the success of the Generation Science Club which we would take into schools to bring science to life. We developed a business model that saw ‘well-off’ schools effectively subsidise ‘poorer’ schools where they paid for our facilitators to attend and undertake workshops. It was a self-sustaining model that reached a wide audience in a diverse and inclusive nature. We want to use this type of activity to drive participation levels by improving grass roots and academic engagement.

“My other key priorities will be in achieving ongoing financial commercial sustainability for the Centre; to drive forward investment and remain ahead of the curve. Finally, to further our existing public sector and academic relationships and to grow industry and business engagement, especially in the private sector.

“We must maintain our independence whilst getting the business community focused on using the Science Centre to tell the world what they are doing. It is difficult to get long-term engagement with this audience, so it is important that we continue to develop relationships with the public and academic sectors. We need all three legs on the stool balanced.”

 Secondary pupils learn about STEM careers in ;a My World of Work lab workshop
Secondary pupils learn about STEM careers in ;a My World of Work lab workshop

On David’s appointment, chief executive Dr Stephen Breslin added: “The Centre will always be a charity with a mission to make science accessible for everyone. To keep the Centre relevant in this fast-paced and commercially volatile world, we need a chair that can guide the board and provide an entrepreneurial business focus to our activities to ensure that the Centre will be able to invest in its ambitious growth plans.

“Under Sir Jim’s chairmanship, the Centre has been able to grow its engagement programme to reach even more people across Scotland and the north of England. We have worked with the private and public sectors and academia to bring a multi-million-pound exhibition which has drawn in record number of visitors. We have been able to invest in a new state-of-the-art planetarium that has opened up new opportunities for people to come and engage with the Centre through its innovative Planetarium Lates events and Saturday Astronomer Club. We have been able to improve the visitor experience by investing in a new cafe which showcases not only fine food and drink, but allows customers see our chefs hard at work.

“David is not only highly engaged with what we are doing, but is very driven in helping us achieve our ambitions. Improving our relationships with the science and technology sectors will further our credentials as one of the leading centres for engaging the public in the world around us and demonstrates our expertise in communicating complex information and data in compelling and exciting ways. We are looking forward to working with him as we move into this exciting new phase for the Centre.”

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