Growing Scientific Minds

Tech Dome Penang provides people from all walks of life a platform for discovering the wonders of science and technology.

Lazer Maze in the Optics gallery.

Tech Dome Penang is listed on the top five science museums in Malaysia, along with the Petrosains Science Discovery Centre, Agro Technology Park, Aquamarine and Marine Museum, and the National Science Centre.1 It is an initiative conceived by the Penang state government, in response to the advent of Industry 4.0.

Science discovery centres are critical community assets, are proven tools for boosting efficacy and competency in science subjects, and are applicable within the ambience of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education. Thus, to raise a community’s self-efficacy in STEM subjects and to imbue students with affection for science and all its related disciplines, more is needed than just textbooks and classrooms.

“Science is about experience – about observation,” says Dr Khong Yoon Loong, CEO of Tech Dome. “The kids may not be able to connect the scientific principle that they have observed to the phenomenon, but they know that if you do this, then that happens. And at some point in time, they should be able to connect the dots.” A trained physicist, the affable Khong has rich experience in education and technology – he was an educator with high-profile academic institutions such as the University of Malaya, Wawasan Open University and KDU University College. He has also held top leadership positions with marquee names such as Intel, First Solar, Fuji Electric and Shin-Etsu.

Tech Dome hit the ground running at its opening in mid-2016 and is today a top attraction in the community, judging by the reviews and ratings. “Navigators”, staff and volunteers guide people through the exhibits, and are advised not to lecture but to enable discovery.

While Khong’s small and nimble operations team can certainly take pride in this accomplishment, good footing was set during its foundation as well: there was common passion between the collaborators, which comprised the state government, MNCs, local donors and pathfinders, who were mostly veterans from the global high technology industry. All parties shared a strong desire to prevent the decline of Malaysian students’ performance in STEM subjects.

Play hundreds of retro games at Tech Dome Penang's game zone.

Tech Dome is housed within the 40,000 sq ft geodesic dome in Komtar, and boasts of 120 interactive scientific and technology exhibits. Meanwhile, its galleries on Information Technology, Life Tech, Robotics, Optics, Electromagnetism, Forces and Motion, Children’s Exploration Zone, the Penang Transformation Story and the astronomy observatory provide an immersive and experiential presentation on the marvels of science and technology.

“Tech Dome Penang has a number of star attractions,” says Tech Dome Penang education and exhibits manager Sean Lee Kuan Shern, “such as G-Drop, the world’s tallest free-standing vertical drop slide; G-Force, a human gyroscope; Digital CSI, a tool invented by a Malaysian company as an alternative to traditional invasive postmortem procedure, and is currently offered at three facilities in the UK; and PIXO, the astronomy observatory. PIXO houses the most powerful telescope in Penang, the Officina Stellare Pro RC 400. It is believed that the sharpest image of the moon ever captured in Malaysia was through this telescope.

“Another telescope available at PIXO is the Lunt 152mm Solar Telescope, the largest commercially available telescope to observe the Sun.”

G-Drop, the world's tallest free-standing vertical drop slide.

PIXO is also a meeting point of the Astronomical Society of Penang (ASP). Observatory tours are available on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, conducted by esteemed members of the ASP.

“We have over 100 science camps and workshops available for pre-schoolers and primary and secondary school students,” says Lee. “Occasionally, we also organise educational programmes for college and university students and adults.

“Among our experiential science camps are Yummy-licious Lab, a fun and experiential science camp to create various foods and learn the science behind it; Junior Detectives Camp, which offers the best approach for kids to get more interested with science through the solving of crime scene mysteries using an interdisciplinary approach of biology, math, physics and chemistry; and Drone Workshop, where participants assemble and understand the inner workings of a drone.

“In addition, we have outreach programmes such as Saintis Muda, which we successfully piloted in December 2017. The pilot programme was attended by 650 students at 16 locations. These students ran science workshops, activities and shows in their communities.

“We are also expanding our Student Exchange Programme to include Taiwan and Hong Kong/China, in addition to Thailand.”

As an evolution of the forward-thinking strategies aimed at developing the region’s human resources, the state government has created a central organisation to drive synergy through its existing agencies to provide a coherent platform for STEM education. Together with the Penang Skills Development Corporation, Penang Digital Library, Penang Science Cluster, Penang Math Platform and @CAT, Tech Dome Penang has been grafted into the Penang STEM ecosystem.

Together, they will drive to make the deeper and bigger agenda a reality, thus protecting the relevancy of Penang’s talents in the new industrial revolution.

Stuart Lim gets a high from turning ideas into words, visuals and humour, and gets lost peeking through the viewfinder..

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