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An exhibition to create awareness about plasma donation: "The power of plasma. Pass it on!"

Learning is a continuous process that extends beyond traditional classrooms. Museums provide a rich environment for such informal learning, often addressing topics that are either absent from or underrepresented in formal education systems. One such example is plasma donation.  Plasma from voluntary donors is a vital component in many life-saving medicines, yet there is a significant lack of knowledge and awareness about its importance among the general population. In 2023, the Dutch Blood Bank Sanquin collaborated with the scientific museum Boerhaave in Leiden, to create a small exhibition on plasma and plasma donation called “The Power of Plasma!” (original in Dutch “De kracht van Plasma!”)

About the exhibition

The exhibition featured two main elements. The first was an installation with tubes and glass vials inside a transparent display window. The vials contained a sparkling yellow liquid, creating a visually striking presentation and intended to induce feelings of awe and admiration. Attached to it was a screen with two headphones, providing video explanations in Dutch or English about plasma and its functions.

Tubes Installation

The second element was an "interactive booth" designed to accommodate two people seated in armchairs, with a screen between them. Visitors could choose from three videos that use storytelling to explain i) what plasma is, ii) the process of plasma donation, and iii) its various applications. Additionally, visitors could answer statements about topics such as compensation for plasma donation and fear of needles. After they had given their opinion, they were provided with detailed explanations related to their answers. Two artifacts were attached to the booth: one 3D print of a plasma protein molecule, and two bottles of freeze-dried plasma from early 1900.

Interactive Booth                            

Research & Practice

This exhibition was observed over four days in February 2024 by 2 junior-researchers.. We primarily observed families, with children and their parents or guardians making up the bulk of visitors. In addition, we looked at what were the most popular videos among the visitors and what answers the visitors gave to the statements. We also conducted a series of short interviews with the visitors. Our data indicates that the exhibition successfully sparked conversations among families, its design engaging the curiosity of both children and adults.

We found other interesting patterns. For example, sometimes the children would mistake the yellow liquid in the vials for pee (and proudly proclaim this, to the amusement of their family and the researchers). We think that this might be because the closest known body for children is pee. The exhibition challenged them to extend their knowledge and learn about another yellow liquid -- plasma. During the observations, we also noticed that the parents could both support the children in their learning experience by offering additional explanations, yet can also hinder it by rushing to other areas of the museum.

One last example of an interesting insight comes from the answers given in the statements. Transfusion medicine specialists advocate for plasma independence while the majority of visitors agreed with the statement that “Importing plasma is an excellent solution”. This provides valuable insights into the public’s attitudes and knowledge about plasma.

To summarize, museums offer dual learning opportunities. For researchers, they provide a platform to understand how people learn in informal settings and gather ideas about public knowledge and opinions. Based on this, science communication can be optimized. For the general public, museums serve as valuable venues to discover unknown topics like plasma donation.


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