Draper Spark!Lab is open in a limited capacity on Fridays and Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The National Museum of American History is also open. Visit https://americanhistory.si.edu/visit for hours and more information.
What is Spark!Lab?
The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation invites children between the ages of six and 12 to create, collaborate, explore, test, experiment, and invent. Activities for children and families incorporate traditional science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) with art, history, and creativity.
Spark!Lab activities communicate that invention is a process, rather than a single “Aha!” moment; provide visitors with opportunities to explore the invention process and their own inventiveness; and demonstrate the central role that invention plays in American history—and today.
This learning space is made possible by The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., with additional support from the Ford Motor Company Fund and Chevron.
The original Spark!Lab opened at the National Museum of American History in November 2008, and was one of its most popular attractions until it closed in 2012 in preparation for the renovation of the Museum’s west wing. Today, the Draper Spark!Lab has the look and feel of an inventor’s work space. Items from the Museum’s collections, images, and inventions created by visitors clearly signal that Spark!Lab is where invention happens.
THE INVENTION PROCESS
Everybody can envision the “Eureka!” moment of invention, where the idea suddenly strikes and—BOOM—there’s a new product ready to change the world. Spark!Lab shows the REAL story behind an inventor’s work.
Invention is a process, from creative ideas all the way to successful marketing, and Draper Spark!Lab is organized around this process. The activities in the room are centered on key steps in the invention process. The steps—broken down into “It Phrases”—are not necessarily linear, but Spark!Lab activities allow visitors to experience all of them:
- Identify a problem or need (Think It)
- Conduct Research (Explore It)
- Make sketches (Sketch It)
- Build prototypes (Create It)
- Test the invention (Try It)
- Refine the invention (Tweak It)
- Market the invention (Sell It)
Draper Spark!Lab activities are designed around common themes which connect with NMAH collections and exhibitions. Themes are developed broadly to incorporate a wide range of collections with each theme. For example, the theme “Things that Roll” introduced visitors to inventions like skateboards, rolling pins, wheelchairs, and robots, while “Things That Help Us See” examined eye glasses, binoculars, cameras, and the light bulb. Themes and activities change on a regular basis, ensuring that Draper Spark!Lab’s repeat visitors have something new to explore each time they visit.
The central Draper Spark!Lab experience is the Invention Hub where visitors can sketch, create, try, tweak, and sell their invention idea. Stocked with a wide range of tools and materials, the Invention Hub provides the platform for visitors to work through the invention process from start to finish. Facilitated by Draper Spark!Lab staff and volunteers, this activity features a specific invention challenge and asks visitors to create a prototype. Once finished, visitors may test and tweak their prototype, and then round out their visit by pitching their idea: explaining their invention process, what makes their invention unique, and how they plan to market it. Visitors are invited to take their invention with them, or leave it on display in Draper Spark!Lab to inspire others.
In addition to the Hub, visitors can partake in a variety of tabletop activities that offer opportunities to explore invention and innovation in American history and experiment with relevant concepts. Activities are designed to engage visitors of varying ages, interests, and abilities, with challenges ranging from simple to complex.
When children enter Draper Spark!Lab, they can also receive an Inventor’s Notebook, which includes worksheets to complete as they participate in different activities. Much like inventors document their work as they invent, children can document their time and experience in Draper Spark!Lab.