Participation in Science, too – at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science

It’s an often repeated refrain in my life : “I’m not that smart, my ideas are not unique, if someone is doing something better than I, I’d like to know about it.”

Luckily there are people like Steve Krizman (@SteveKrizman) , Diane Gage-Lofgren (@dianelofgren) and really a community of curious people who have the same philosophy. With that in mind, Steve and Diane brought us (myself, Keith Montgomery, Karen Blair) to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (@DenverMuseumNS) to see the Expedition Health exhibit there , which also happens to be supported by Kaiser Permanente’s Community Benefit.

Expedition Health has won major awards for Visitor Experience. What better place to learn about experience outside of health care, then. We were guided on our tour by a most impressive scientist, Nicole Garneau, PhD who has an accessible twitter alter-ego in @YoPearlSciGirl . Nicole is actually the Curator and Department Chair in Health Sciences, and she has what I have been calling lately, a very high humility/high accomplishment ratio. She’s passionate about science and about citizen participation in science. Let me understate things a bit and say that she’s an off-the-charts role model for women in science, and science in general.

I had heard about participation in medicine / health care (of course), but not in science. Nicole is a grant funded researcher and operates The Genetics Lab, which is

the first community-based and community-run genetics lab in the country

They are serious about participation here, and not just for participation sake. In The Genetics Lab, they are working together, as a community, to unlock the science of taste. If you have an interest in health and obesity prevention, it doesn’t take long for you to venture into the science of taste. To see that some of that science is being generated here by people who feel involved in the answer is a great thing. 

As Nicole explained to us, the exhibit is tuned for involvement, and in promoting a person’s body in the positive. As I did a little research for this blog post, I found some information on Participatory Mueums and Participatory Science Centres. As I live in a city with a lot of museums, I have noticed this type of design more and more, and I didn’t realize how much I could learn from it until I saw it a little behind the scenes.

The other often repeated refrain for me is “as usual, I saw lots of analogies to clinical medicine.” The reason we are on this quest, by the way, is because we want to know what supports the people we serve in experiencing a healthy future for themselves, their communities, and society. The right experience allows the people we serve to leverage excellent medical care to achieve their life goals, and if health care has the ability to contribute to creating that, it should. With a national budget of $2.7 trillion dollars, I don’t think this is an unreasonable expectation. Fortunately, there are so many people and institutions paving the way.

Thanks again Nicole, Steve, Diane, Karen, Keith, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for embracing curiosity and inspiring a whole community to learn and teach about better health! More photos below, enjoy.

Ted Eytan, MD