Children from poorer families are unlikely to visit any of Scotland's four science centres, and their parents often do not know they exist.
Yet these same families will often be interested in science, find researchers, who blame lack of awareness about the centres largely on inadequate marketing.
Research agency mruk research was commissioned by the Scottish Government for the second round of a survey, which originated in 2009, into awareness and use of the four Scottish science centres - in Glasgow, Edinburgh (Our Dynamic Earth), Dundee (Sensation) and Aberdeen (Satrosphere).
The researchers' 1,040 interviews with adults aged 16 or over found that 32 per cent had no awareness of any centre in 2010, up from 24 per cent in 2009. The best-known was Glasgow, which 46 per cent had heard of, but that had fallen from 64 per cent, while awareness of Our Dynamic Earth dropped to 36 from 42 per cent.
Awareness was largely limited to the wealthier ABC1 socio-economic groupings, while those with no knowledge of science centres tended to be from less affluent backgrounds.
Some 74 per cent had never been to a science centre, while an increasing number of visitors did not know whether they would go again: the proportion who would revisit Our Dynamic Earth, for example, had fallen from 87 to 54 per cent; Glasgow Science Centre saw a drop from 75 to 55 per cent. This trend may be a result of the economic downturn, the researchers speculate.
Visitors were much more likely to answer that they would go to a science centre "for fun'" than non-visitors, for whom lack of knowledge about what went on inside was the biggest barrier to going.
But fewer non-visitors stated that they were not interested in science than in 2009 - 15 per cent, against 30 per cent previously - and very low numbers said science centres were "boring", or places for "scientistsexpertsbrainy people". Meanwhile, there was a surge in people saying they did not visit because they knew nothing about the centres, up from 29 to 51 per cent.
"This seems to indicate that non-visitation is less due to a lack of interest in the subject area, but more due to a lack of knowledge about the centres themselves," the researchers found. They point out that centres actually have an "encouraging" appeal across a wide proportion of the population.
Marketing and PR is deemed a "key issue" in bridging the communication gap. It is also recommended that the centres specifically target children from lower socio-economic groups. Researchers think an effective method of promotion, given that most people hear about science centres through word of mouth, would be to show what they do through the eyes of previous visitors.